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The founding of the Misericórdia of Vila Real

The origin of the Misericórdia of Vila Real has to be analysed in the context of the founding of the Misericórdias in the province of Trás-os-Montes, and the king's efforts to disseminate such institutions, taking as a paradigm the Misericórdia of Lisbon, throughout the Portuguese territory. Thus, in the reign of King Manuel I (1495-1521), in July 1518, it was granted permission to the Misericórdia of Braganza to abide by the Commitment (Bylaws) of Lisbon from 1498; the Misericórdia of Freixo de Espada à Cinta was created before 1521; and the Misericórdia of Chaves had its bylaws printed in 1516.

The most ancient document found at the archives of Vila Real, which clearly attests the Misericórdia’s existence, dates of March 20, 1528. It is a deed of purchase of a set of buildings where the church of this Brotherhood was to be built. However, this document refers to the year of the beginning of construction of the Misericórdia’s Church, not to the foundation of the Institution, which preceded the existence of the temple itself.

Other sources, however, point to the existence of the Misericórdia of Vila Real before that date, including a charter of the Marquise of Vila Real, from 1518, and the reference to a book with the incomes of the Misericórdia regarding the year of 1503.

The Memoirs of Vila Real, from 1721, follow the same line of thought, mentioning that the church of the Misericórdia was kept in a chapel in the parish of St. Dinis until 1528, the year when Pedro de Castro, apostolic protonotary and abbot of Salvador de Mouçós, "rebuilt" it, installing it in some houses that he had bought in Vila Real, making it “with the greatness it has today", with a dispatch house and supplementary installations, "at his own expense, all made with impressive stonework".

This text, supported by the documents mentioned above, reveals very important data concerning the origins of the Misericórdia of Vila Real:

 • firstly, it allow us to date the year of the beginning of the construction of the Church of the Misericórdia in 1528, completed ten years later, in 1538, the year when Pedro de Castro established in it a chapel with a daily mass;

 • secondly, the Misericórdia was already well structured in 1528, and therefore with a proper bylaws that ruled its government, including the election of the provedor (a sort of chairman) – which is mentioned in the deed of purchase – and the Board;

 • lastly, the Misericórdia of Vila Real, before 1528, already existed in a chapel at the parish of St. Dinis, as it happened with other Misericórdias in their early stages.

 

The vast influence enjoyed by the Count of Vila Real in the Royal Court – Pedro de Meneses was granted with the title of Marquis of Vila Real in 1489, the year of the founding of the Misericórdia of Lisbon – lead him to immediately nurture the project of a Misericórdia in Vila Real, similar to what happened with the House of Braganza in Chaves and Bragança, since he was aware of the commitment of the king in the foundation of Misericórdias throughout the kingdom.

All these elements allow us to conclude that the foundation of the Misericórdia of Vila Real is not only prior to 1528, but was actually founded during the reign of King Manuel I, like the Misericórdias of the three boroughs from Trás-os-Montes above mentioned.

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