Among the gildsmen there was a strong spirit of fraternal cooperation or Christian brotherhood, with a mixture of worldly and religious ideals - the support of the body and the salvation of the soul.
Early meanings of the root gild or geld were expiation, penalty, sacrifice or worship, feast or banquet, and contribution or payment; it is difficult to determine which is the earliest meaning, and we are not certain whether the gildsmen were originally those who contributed to a common fund or those who worshipped or feasted together.
Prayers for the dead, attendance at funerals of gildsmen, periodical banquets, the solemn entrance oath, fines for neglect of duty and for improper conduct, contributions to a common purse, mutual assistance in distress, periodical meetings in the gildhall, - in short, all the characteristic features of the later gilds already appear in the statutes of these Anglo-Saxon fraternities.
Alms were often given even to non-gildsmen; lights were supported at certain altars; feasts and processions were held periodically; the funerals of brethren were attended; and masses for the dead were provided from the common purse or from special contributions made by the gildsmen.
A grant of this sort implied that the gildsmen had the right to trade freely in the town, and to impose payments and restrictions upon others who desired to exercise that privilege.
Much evidence has been produced to show that gild and borough, gildsmen and burgesses, were originally distinct conceptions, and that they continued to be discriminated in most towns throughout the middle ages.