Confraternities of the Cord are pious associations of Christian faithful, the members of which wear a cord, girdle or cincture in honour of a saint, to keep in mind some special grace or favour which they hope to obtain through his/her intercession. 
In the early Church virgins wore a cincture as a sign and emblem of purity, and hence it has always been considered a symbol of chastity as well as of mortification and humility. The wearing of a cord or cincture in honour of a saint is of very ancient origin, and we find the first mention of it in the life of St. Monica. In the Middle Ages cinctures were also worn by the faithful in honour of saints, though no confraternities were formally established, and the wearing of a cincture in honour of Saint Michael was general throughout France. Later on, ecclesiastical authority set apart special formulae for the blessing of cinctures in honour of the Most Precious Blood, of Our Lady, of Saint Francis of Paola, and Saint Philomena.
Confraternities had their beginnings in the early Middle Ages, and developed rapidly from the end of the twelfth century from the rise of the great ecclesiastical orders. The main object and duty of these societies were, above all, the practice of piety and works of charity. There are various confraternities of the Cord, whose members wear a cord as insignia just as members of other confraternities wear a scapular.  There are in the Church three archconfraternities and one confraternity the members of which wear a cord or cincture.
Archconfraternity of Our Lady of Consolation
The oldest and most celebrated of these Confraternities of the Cord is probably the "Archconfraternity of the Black Leathern Belt of Saint Monica, Saint Augustine and Saint Nicholas of Tolentino", also called the "Archconfraternity of Our Lady of Consolation".
According to an old tradition, Saint Monica, in a vision received a black leather belt from the Blessed Virgin, who assured the holy widow that she would take under her special protection all those who wore it in her honour. Saint Monica related this vision to Saint Ambrose and Saint Simplician; both saints thereupon put on a leather belt, and Ambrose is said to have girded her son, Saint Augustine, with it at his baptism. Later on, it was adopted by the Hermits of St. Augustine as a distinctive part of their habit.
After the canonization of Saint Nicholas of Tolentine, it came into general use among the faithful. The title "consolatrix afflictorum" (Consolation of the Afflicted) is part of the Litany of Loreto. The origin of this advocation is Augustinian. Devotion to Our Lady of Consolation was propagated by the Augustinian monks, and began with the foundation in 1436 in Bologna, Italy, of the confraternity of the Holy cincture of Our Lady of Consolation. The title has its origin in a legend according to which Monica, mother of Augustine, sought help and consolation in praying to Our Lady. Mary in answer took her black belt/sash and gave it to Monica with the promise that whoever wore this belt would receive her special consolation and protection. By the early 18th century the custom of asking for the final blessing before death in the name of Our Lady of Consolation was very popular.
The principal feast of this confraternity is the Sunday within the octave of the feast of Saint Augustine (28 August). The members are obliged to wear a black leather belt, to recite daily thirteen Paters and Aves and the Salve Regina, and to fast on the vigil of the feast of Saint Augustine. For the erection of and reception into this archconfraternity, special faculties must be had from the prior general. The headquarters of the society are at Rome, in the Church of St. Augustine where the body of Saint Monica lies.
Archconfraternity of the Cord of Saint Francis
After his conversion Francis of Assisi girded himself with a rough cord in the manner of the poor of his day, and a white cord with three knots came subsequently to form part of the Franciscan habit. According to the Franciscan historian Luke Wadding, O.F.M., Saint Dominic received the cord from Saint Francis when they exchanged their girdles in a sign of friendship. From that day on, Dominic always wore it under his habit out of devotion to his fellow founder, his example being followed by many of the faithful.
In his bull "Ex supernae dispositionis" (19 November 1585), Pope Sixtus V, himself a Franciscan, erected the Archconfraternity of the Cord of Saint Francis in hoonor of Christ's passion, in the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, enriching it with many indulgences, and conferred upon the minister general of the Conventual friars the power of erecting confraternities of the cord of Saint Francis in the churches of his order and of aggregating them to the archconfraternity at Assisi. The same pope, in his bull "Divinae caritatis" (29 August 1587), granted new indulgences to the archconfraternity and empowered the Minister General of the Friars Minor to erect confraternities of the cord of Saint Francis in the churches of his own order, in those places where there were no Conventuals. Pope Paul V, in his bull "Cum certas" (2 March 1607), and "Nuper archiconfraternitati" (11 March 1607) revoked all spiritual favours hitherto conceded to the archconfraternity and enriched it with new and more ample indulgences. Both these bulls were confirmed by the brief of Pope Clement X, "Dudum felicis" (13 July 1673).
Pope Benedict XIII in his constitution "Sacrosancti apostolatus" (30 September 1724), conceded to the minister general of the Conventuals authority to erect confraternities of the cord of Saint Francis in churches not belonging to his own order in those places where there were no Franciscans. New privileges and indulgences were conceded to the archconfraternity by two decrees of the Sacred Congregation for Indulgences dated 22 March 1879, and 26 May 1883.
Archconfraternity of the Cord of Saint Joseph
The miraculous cure of an Augustinian nun at Antwerp in 1657 from a grievous illness, through the wearing of a cord in honour of Saint Joseph, gave rise to the pious practice of wearing it to obtain the grace of purity through his intercession. The devotion soon spread over many countries of Europe, and in the 19th century was revived at Rome in the Church of Saint Roch and in that of Saint Nicolas at Verona, Italy. Pope Pius IX, in a rescript dated 19 September 1859, approved a special formula for the blessing of the cord of Saint Joseph, and in his brief "Expositum nobis nuper" (14 March 1862) enriched the confraternity with many indulgences.
In 1860, several new indulgences were granted to the confraternity erected in the church of St. Nicholas at Verona and by the brief Universi Dominici gregis, 23 September 1862, the Confraternity of the Cord of Saint Joseph was raised to an archconfraternity.
The members are obliged to wear a cord having seven knots, and are exhorted to recite daily seven Glorias in honour of St. Joseph. The White Cord of Saint Joseph can be worn around the waist for purity or around the shoulders for obedience. Any priest can bless the girdle, after which when worn for the first time, enrolls one in the Archconfraternity of the Cord of Saint Joseph; the formula "Priest's Blessing of a Cincture" found in the Roman Ritual can be used for this.
Confraternities of the Cord of Saint Joseph must be aggregated to the archconfraternity in the Church of St. Roch at Rome in order to enjoy its spiritual favours and indulgences.
Universal Archconfraternity of Saint Philomena
The Universal Archconfraternity of Saint Philomena is an apostolate in which members commit to live "according to the Gospel of Christ with the example of Saint Philomena", spreading devotion to her, and encouraging youth to walk the Christian life.
Members must have read Life of the Young Saint (encouraging others to do so also), wear at all times the Cord of Saint Philomena (which can be blessed by a priest), pray daily the Little Crown of Saint Philomena, and receive Holy Communion on 10 January, 25 May, and the 10th, 11th or 13th of August. An indulgence is gained by members who wear the Cord of Saint Philomena on these days, granted that the usual conditions have been fulfilled, including receiving the sacraments of Confession and Eucharist, as well as praying for the Pope's intentions. The Cord of Saint Philomena is made of cotton or wool threads of white and red, representing "faith and the purity of virginity". Members of the Universal who wear the Cord of Saint Philomena will be "preserve[d], chaste and pure, safe from temptation" as it has "the virtue of healing sickness of body and spirit".
The names of those enrolled at a Confraternity of Saint Philomena site must be forwarded to the Sanctuary of Saint Philomena, which are "recorded in the general registry of the Universal Archconfraternity of Saint Philomena."
Confraternity of the Cord of Saint Thomas usually called the Angelic Warfare Confraternity
It is related in the life of Saint Thomas Aquinas that, as a reward for his overcoming a temptation against purity, he was girded with a cord by angels, and that in consequence he was never again tempted against this virtue. This cord is still preserved in the church at Chieri, near Turin, Italy. Soon after the saint's death many of the faithful began to wear a cord in honour of Saint Thomas, to obtain the grace of purity through his intercession.
In the 17th century, societies were formed at different universities, the student members of which wore a cord in honour of Saint Thomas, hoping through his intercession to be protected from the dangers to which youth is generally exposed.
The first Confraternity of the Cord of Saint Thomas was erected at the Catholic University of Leuven by the Belgian Dominican friar Franciscus Deurweerders in 1649, and numbered among its members all the professors and students of the Faculty of Theology (which has Thomas Aquinas as patron saint) and many of the faithful. Thence it spread to Maastricht, Vienna, and many other cities of Europe.
Pope Innocent X sanctioned this new confraternity by a brief dated 22 March 1652. The members are required to have their names enrolled, to wear a cord with fifteen knots or the medal of the confraternity, and to recite daily fifteen Ave Marias, the Prayer of St. Thomas and the Prayer to St. Thomas every morning. To be received into this confraternity, any Dominican priest can perform the ceremony. A non-Dominican priest can perform the ceremony with authorization from the Director of the confraternity. Its indulgences and privileges are contained in the great bull of Pope Benedict XIII, "Pretiosus" (26 April 1727, sect. 9) and in the decree of the Sacred Congregation of Indulgences (8 May 1844).
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- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Confraternities of the Cord". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.