Founded in 1498 by Queen D. Leonor, Misericórdia de Lisboa has always deserved the city’s recognition thanks to its charitable works. With over 500 years of history, the institution today assumes itself as a bulwark of equality and respect for the rights of all people, primarily the most unprotected.
On August 15th, 1498, in Lisbon, the year in which the Portuguese navigators reached India, the first Portuguese Misericórdia appeared as a result of the special intervention of Queen D. Leonor, and with the full support of King Manuel I.
The development of maritime expansion, port and commercial activity favored the influx of people to large urban centers, as was the case in Lisbon. People who came looking for work or enrichment, in a search that was often fruitless. Living conditions deteriorated. The streets became dens of promiscuity and disease, crowding together beggars and foundlings. Shipwrecks and battles also created large numbers of widows and orphans, and the situation of those incarcerated in Kingdom prisons was distressing.
In this difficult context, D. Leonor, queen and widow of D. João II, decides to establish a Brotherhood of Invocation to Our Lady of Mercy, in the Cathedral of Lisbon (Chapel of Nossa Senhora da Piedade or Terra Solta), where it now has its headquarters. At the end of almost a century of oceanic navigations, a new brotherhood emerged, guided by principles established in the Commitment (statute or regulation) of the Misericórdia.
The original Commitment of the Misericórdia de Lisboa was approved by King Manuel I and confirmed by Pope Alexander VI. The document was probably lost with the earthquake of 1755. Several copies were taken of it and a printed edition was made in 1516, which came to allow for the quicker dissemination of the text, facilitating the creation of other Misericórdia throughout the Kingdom and in the territories of Overseas.
Initially made up of one hundred brothers, the Brotherhood worked with the poor, prisoners, and the sick. It also supported the so-called “embarrassed”, people who had fallen into poverty by misfortune. It helped all those in need, giving them lodging, clothes, food, medicine or medication. It also promoted an important intervention at the religious level, by being present at prayers and at the celebration of masses and processions, at burial ceremonies, accompanying people sentenced to death or promoting penance. The Brothers thus announced the Gospel in words, but also in concrete deeds, witnessed to through Christian attitudes.
Misericórdia adopted as an identifying symbol the image of the Virgin with her robe open, protecting earthly powers, kings, queens, princes, and spiritual powers, Popes, cardinals, bishops, clerics or members of religious orders. A protection that also extended to all the deprived, children, the poor, the sick, prisoners, among others. The symbol started to be printed on appointments, drawn on tiles, carved on various buildings and painted on canvases, namely on the banners, flags or standards that each Misericórdia had.
The rapid growth in the prestige of Misericórdia de Lisboa brought it a greater number of responsibilities, namely supporting orphans and administering the Hospital Real de Todos-os-Santos, with the task of protecting foundling children. The new brotherhoods also promoted the dissemination and practice of the 14 Works of Mercy:
Teach the simple
Give good advice
Correct with charity those who err
Console those who suffer
Forgive those who offend us
Suffer injuries with patience
Praying to God for the living and the dead
Redeem captives and visit prisoners
Heal and assist the sick
Clothe the nudes
Feed the hungry
Give drink to those who are thirsty
Give pilgrims accommodation
Bury the dead
The effective action of the Misericórdia de Lisboa was due not only to the commitment and generous participation of the members of the Brotherhood, but also to the support and protect the Crown, as well as the benevolence of numerous individuals. It is within this framework that the granting of multiple privileges is understood, as well as the endowment of imposing installations, such as the new headquarters of the Misericórdia de Lisboa, ordered to be built by D. Manuel I and completed in 1534.
- Creation of Misericórdia in August 1498, but for the celebration of the festivities the day of the Visitation of Our Lady to her cousin St. Elizabeth (July 2nd) was chosen.
- Later, in the Catholic Church, the Visitation festivities were changed to May 31st, so the other Misericórdias also adopted this new date.
- This anticipation, to May 31st, was justified so that the celebrations of the Visitation would be chronologically between the Annunciation and the birth of St. John the Baptist.
- In 1498, the day of the Visitation was chosen for all the Brothers to gather for the election of the Board.
- The feast of the Visitation has been celebrated since medieval times, but in 1389, Pope Urban VI (with the aim of ending the Great Schism of the West), instituted it in the Roman calendar on July 2nd.
- In 1969, however, Pope Paul VI moved it to May 31st, between the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord (March 25th) and the Birth of John the Baptist (June 24th), so that it would harmonize better with the Gospel account.
One hundred years after its foundation and pressured by political, social and economic changes, resulting from the loss of the Kingdom’s independence (1581), the Misericórdia de Lisboa felt the need to reform the original Commitment. It also intended that its structure would adapt to new realities, thus publishing a new Commitment in 1618.
With greater responsibilities, the financial difficulties grew. Raising the foundling children, left in the care of Misericórdia, continued to be one of the Brotherhood’s main concerns. But the City Council of Lisbon, which was supposed to finance this action, was often late in making payments. The Crown then intervened in favor of Misericórdia, determining that the Municipality fulfill its obligations. Shortly after, in 1657, the “Meza dos Engeitados” or “Santos Inocentes” was established.
To increase support for foundling children in Misericórdia, during the period of the independence wars, from 1640 to 1668, privileges were granted to the families of the nurses who took them in: during the time of creation, their husbands were exempt from the militia; a privilege that later also extended to the children of the nurses.
At the time, the so-called “prisoners of the Misericórdia”, that is, detainees who were supported by the Misericórdia, benefited from greater speed in the dispatch of their requests and were sent to exile, “released” (unchained), without leaving bail. With the Restoration, these privileges were again confirmed.
Throughout the XVIII century, two major issues remained unresolved: the support of the foundling and the financing of the Institution. In the second half of this century, in particular, the process of receiving and raising foundlings, which was explained by the growth in the number of foundlings and the difficulty of hiring childminders residing in Lisbon or near the capital, worsened. Infant mortality grew and the government of Marquês de Pombal carried out the reform of the process of creation, delivery and education of the foundlings, establishing new rules. In practice, the Pombaline regulation increased the State’s intervention in the life of the Brotherhood and in the administration of the Misericórdia itself.
New subventions were granted for the creation of the foundlings. This protective policy of the Misericórdia de Lisboa culminated in the donation of the Church and the Professed House of S. Roque to the Institution in 1768. This building had belonged to the Companhia de Jesus and, still today, houses the headquarters of the Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Lisboa. There, after the earthquake of 1755, the foundlings and the orphans of the Recollection were conveniently installed.
Financial difficulties would lead the Misericórdia Bureau and the Royal Hospitals for the Sick and Foundling to request Queen D. Maria I to grant permission to establish an annual Lottery, “to meet the urgent needs of the said two Hospitals with its profits” (Decree of November 18th, 1783). Part of the lottery profits also benefited other pious and scientific institutions.
At the beginning of the XIX century, the economic situation of the Misericórdia de Lisboa remained very precarious. The passive debt continued to be a concern, despite the measures taken to provide the Misericórdia with the necessary means to carry out its numerous charitable actions.
The urban buildings that contributed to the revenue of Santa Casa, before the earthquake, were largely razed or damaged. Even so, the Misericórdia de Lisboa continued to be a model for all charitable institutions – the Prince Regent D. João (future D. João VI), ordered, in fact, in 1806 that the mercies of the Kingdom began to be regulated by the Commitment of the Misericórdia de Lisboa which, for this purpose, was reprinted (1818) and widely publicized.
This time of great political instability, marked by the French Revolution and the Civil War, saw the decline of the Brotherhood. Concerned with the situation, in 1834, the Duke of Bragança, regent on behalf of the Queen, proceeded to appoint an Administration Commission, authorized to carry out the most urgent reforms, thus dispensing with the active participation of the Brothers of the Confraria da Misericórdia de Lisboa.
With the extremely high rate of infant mortality, the Commission took a series of measures to improve conditions in the Foundling House. The Orphans’ Accommodation was transferred to the Convent of São Pedro de Alcântara, donated to the Misericórdia by decree of D. Pedro IV (1833). Here, too, the teaching method in the different classes was improved, establishing classes in writing, music and other subjects considered necessary.
However, despite all the efforts of the Commission, the financial difficulties had not eased. With the increase in the number of children entering the wheel of Misericórdia de Lisboa, many of them from neighboring municipalities, the Institution’s economic situation worsened considerably.
In order to intervene in the origin of the abandonment of children, in 1853, it was determined that, during the first three years of life, a “salary or alms” would be granted to mothers without resources, to enable them to raise their children.
With the worsening of poverty, the General Council of Beneficence was created. Its essential aim was to extinguish begging. Renovated in 1851, it was in charge of Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Lisboa, the Hospitals of S. José, S. Lázaro and Rilhafoles, the Casa Pia in Lisbon and other establishments.
It was then decided that the Misericórdia de Lisboa would be managed by a royally appointed Ombudsman, two Deputies elected by the Brotherhood of Misericórdia (which never happened) and two Deputies chosen by the Government. Through the Decree of December 2nd, 1851, the Administrative Commission of Santa Casa was dissolved, and the administration became a Bureau appointed exclusively by the Government and made up of people who were not part of the Brotherhood.
The sources of funding for Misericórdia de Lisboa continued to consist essentially of lottery profits, income from buildings and titles (financial investments), as well as the entry of property from inheritances, legacies and donations. Several measures were then increased:
- Fighting the practice of extraordinary lotteries that diverted the profits of the Misericórdia de Lisboa;
- Fighting against competition from foreign lotteries, especially from Spain;
- Updating the rents for urban and rustic buildings;
- Multiplication of income from financial investments, through its orientation towards more favorable investments;
- Intervention, with the public, judicial and notary powers, in order to enforce legacies and inheritances destined to the Misericórdia de Lisboa;
- Investment in the creation of new sources of income (as was the case with the construction of the Banhos Termais de S. Paulo);
- Greater thoroughness in controlling expenses and inspecting the works;
- Accountability to the Government
In the middle of the XIX century, there was a big drop in the profits generated by the lottery. Simultaneously, due to the application of the de-mortization laws, the Misericórdia de Lisboa was forced to sell a significant part of the real estate assets and to apply the proceeds of the sale in treasury bonds. These factors, together with the management difficulties of the foundling, led to an aggravation of the financial crisis, which only found a solution in the reforms carried out during the mandate of the Marquis of Rio Maior Ombudsman.
It had become difficult to support the subventions granted to the most deprived mothers, started in 1853, as a way to stimulate the creation and discourage the abandonment of children, even because this allowance did not prevent the exposure of foundling. The solution involved reorganizing the service and, above all, regulating the form of admission of children to the wheel, imposing an effective inspection. The application of the measures provided for in the Regulatory Instructions on the Police and Surveillance Service of the Wheel (1870) led to a drastic reduction in the number of foundlings. Consequently, there was a notable decrease in expenses, which allowed for a more diversified action by the Misericórdia de Lisboa. In addition, new subventions were established, covering the entire breastfeeding period of the child, and prizes were awarded to mothers who, up to the first year, applied for their children.
The Misericórdia maintained the external clinical service, intended for the visited, which included the supply of medicines and diets. Medical support was extended to a greater number of the deprived population and regulations for the clinical service were established, dividing the city and neighboring parishes into different areas or districts, where the poor now had a doctor, a surgeon and from an apothecary. In conjunction with the standards, the SCML Nursing Form was published, indicating the quantities, products and the form of preparation and administration to patients.
Putting the works of mercy into practice, it was decided to implement food assistance to the most deprived population. Thus, in December 1887, the Soup of Charity was created, later called the Kitchen of the Poor. The excessive amount of money spent on the treatment of poor patients, whose health problems were generally related to the type of diet, weighed heavily on this decision.
At the beginning of the XX century, Misericórdia de Lisboa developed assistance through:
- Care provided to children in custody and orphans, oriented towards training, teaching, hygiene and child health;
- Improvement of clinical and visitation services;
- Increased food assistance;
- Granting of subventions to various public and private institutions, some of which would join the Misericórdia de Lisboa, due to subsistence difficulties.
The Republic restructured Assistance, through the Law of May 25th, 1911. This diploma created the General Directorate of Assistance, which encompassed the Central Assistance Department of Lisbon, responsible for charitable establishments, including Civil Hospitals, Casa Pia and the Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Lisboa.
Between 1926 and 1931, several institutions were integrated into the Misericórdia de Lisboa:
- In 1926, the changing rooms, night help station services, subsidy and pension distribution services (from the Lisbon Assistance Office) and the Instituto de Cegos Branco Rodrigues.
- In 1927, the infant lacrosses (from the Lisbon City Council) and the Sanatorium of Sant’Ana, in Parede.
- In 1928, the Economic Kitchens, Soups of the Poor, Semi-boarding Schools (Colégio Araújo, Colégio da Travessa da Alameda and Rua Artilharia 1), Rua da Rosa Pension (installed in the Marquês de Minas Palace), Instituto Infantil da Parede and the Elementary Schools of Alto de Pina and Ajuda;
- In 1931, the nurseries of Vítor Manuel and Nossa Senhora da Conceição (from the Nurseries-Asylum Association of Lisbon).
The Estado novo political regime introduced significant reforms. One of the central points regarded the creation of new social centers: the project for assistance in the Lisbon area considered Misericórdia as an instrumental and financing source, bringing together in the Misericórdia various assistance and social assistance institutions, such as the new Multipurpose Social Centers and the Executive Committee for the Defense of the Family.
In 1935, Santa Casa inaugurated, at its headquarters, the Central Medical Institute and, in 1943, the Children’s Hospital of S. Roque, with hospitalisation in various specialties.
Between 1957 and 1963, a new management idea and greater dynamism in solving problems were introduced to Misericórdia de Lisboa. This new orientation resulted in the development of cooperation agreements with many care support institutions and the emergence of new services such as Occupational Medicine, a true pilot center where doctors and nurses were trained.
The Misericórdia de Lisboa’s interest in public health issues would find application in integrated medical and social assistance. A formula characteristic of the 60’s that placed special focus on preventive medicine. It was in this context that, in 1965, Dr. José Domingos Barreiro Health and Assistance Center was opened, built on land donated to Misericórdia de Lisboa and which was supposed to be a model of action.
Totobola, created in 1961, allowed to increase the income of social games. Net income was shared equally between rehabilitation assistance and the promotion of physical education and sports. This made it possible for Misericórdia to create a Center for Rehabilitation Medicine in Alcoitão (1966), focused on the treatment of injured and disabled people.
After the Revolution of April 25th, 1974, the drop in revenue from the games, aggravated by the decolonisation and the consequent closure of overseas delegations, gave rise to great financial difficulties.
With the creation of the National Health Service, all central, district and municipal hospitals came under the direct control of the Secretary of State for Health. Initially outside the scope of these decisions, the Hospital de Sant’Ana and the Center for Rehabilitation of Alcoitão began to depend on the General Directorate of Hospitals, for the application of Decree-Law no. 480/77, of November 15th.
In the context of the revolutionary period, many institutions of social action faced survival difficulties. Once again, the State opted for its integration in the Misericórdia de Lisboa: the case of Municipal Neighborhoods (1975, 1976 and 1977); Campolide Shelter House (1976); Santo António Nursery and Kindergarten (1978); Santa Catarina Children’s Parks, São Pedro de Alcântara, Necessidades and Alcântara (1979); Children’s Vacation Camp of São Julião da Ericeira, Social Work of Pousal, Internship for Minors of “Alvor”, PRODAC (Association of Productivity in Self-construction), CASU (University Social Action Center), Santa Isabel Orphanage-School (later known as Aldeia de Santa Isabel), Social Center of Quinta do Ourives, Social Center of Bairro das Casas Pré-Fabricadas and Jardim Infantil de Palma e Fonseca (1983).
In 1978, Santa Casa valued maternal and child health care, introducing a Family Planning service.
In 1979, Santa Casa created its first library in the institution’s central services, in Largo Trindade Coelho, which remains open to the general public.
In 1982, Hospital de Sant’Ana would return to the direct dependence of SCML. The Alcoitão Rehabilitation Center was also reintegrated into the Misericórdia de Lisboa in 1991. In 1994, the Superior School of Health of Alcoitão (ESSA), the former Alcoitão Rehabilitation School, would be recognized as a Private High Education establishment.
Created in 1987, the Nunes Corrêa Verdades de Faria Awards fulfill the will expressed in a Will by Mantero Belard.
The Alcoitão School of Health (ESSA), the former Alcoitão Rehabilitation School, would be recognized as a Private High Education establishment.
At the end of the century, more precisely in 1998, Misericórdia de Lisboa defined a strategy for volunteering, creating its own structure to make this area of activity a more dynamic one.
The XX century was also marked by the launch of new social games, with the aim of attracting more revenues for the implementation of other initiatives. Special attention was then given to Totoloto (1985), Popular Lottery (1987), Joker (1993; suspended in 2017) and Instant Lottery or Scratch cards (1995).
The turn of the millennium brought new challenges to the institution. To respond to the challenges of the XXI century, maintaining itself as a reference institution, Santa Casa invested in areas such as urban rehabilitation to make the most of its vast heritage or the promotion of active aging through an intergenerational policy across all its areas of action, responding to a large number of elderly who are users of the institution, while involving young people in these responses.
The need to update the operating processes and intervention methodologies, to keep up with the new social realities and combat the disastrous effects that would result from them, was at the basis of the drafting of the new Statutes of the Misericórdia de Lisboa, approved by Decree-Law no. 235/2008, of December 3rd.
The year was marked by the birth of the new brand and commercial identity of the Gaming Department of Santa Casa, under the name “Jogos Santa Casa”. In addition to this fact, and in order to increase revenue from social games as well as the distribution to its beneficiaries, Santa Casa Gaming Department launched, together with other countries, its most eccentric game: Euromillions.
Continuing its bet and strategy in the health area, the institution inaugurates, in 2012, the Maria José Nogueira Pinto Health Unit, dedicated to long term and palliative care.
With the aim of recognizing those who, despite being old, are still active and participative in Portuguese society, the Portuguese Psychogerontology Association instituted, in collaboration with Misericórdia de Lisboa and Montepio Foundation, the Dr. Maria Raquel Ribeiro Award, which distinguishes seniors aged 80 and over, who are an asset to Portugal.
In 2013 and for the first time in its history, SCML began to invest directly in excellent scientific and medical research, through the creation of the largest grants for projects in Neuroscience developed in Portugal. Thus were born the Santa Casa Neurosciences Awards, which represent an annual investment of 400.000 euros, divided between two awards: the Melo e Castro Award and the Mantero Belard Award.
With the purpose of helping the other Misericórdias in the country to promote priority and innovative social causes, to recover historical heritage so often relegated to the background, Santa Casa and the União das Misericórdias de Portugal got together in 2015 to launch the Fund Queen Dona Leonor.
With common interests and purposes, Santa Casa became a partner of the Ricardo do Espírito Santo Silva Foundation (FRESS). This partnership aimed to guarantee the financing of the continuity of FRESS’ activities, the carrying out of conservation and restoration projects in the Santa Casa’s heritage, the integration of young trainees in the work context and in FRESS courses, as well as support for the development of projects of innovative character, among others.
Reinforcing its commitment to Research and Development, the João Lobo Antunes Award was created, worth 40 thousand euros. Aimed at medical graduates in a medical internship regime, it aims to stimulate scientific culture and clinical research in the field of neurosciences, without forgetting João Lobo Antunes’ principle regarding the humanization of the medical act – “their patients and their stories”.
In order to promote innovative solutions in solving social and environmental problems and needs, in accordance with the values promoted by the institution, for the construction of a more solidary and sustainable society, Santa Casa launched, on October 1st, 2018, its Casa do Impacto.
The purpose of Casa do Impacto is to aggregate, in the same physical space, all entities of the social entrepreneurship and social innovation ecosystem, from entrepreneurs to third sector institutions, universities, companies, acceleration programs, investors, philanthropists and local authorities, to, in this way, contribute so that all actors can work together in the creation of projects with social impact.
In February, Lisbon’s Santa Casa da Misericórdia, together with the Lisbon City Council, the city’s parish councils, the Public Security Police and the Regional Health Administration of Lisbon and Vale do Tejo, started the pioneering program “Lisbon, City of All Ages”. A program whose mission is to provide an integrated response to the 65+ population, on the path to longevity, promoting participatory citizenship actions with a view to greater levels of autonomy and independence. Particular emphasis was put on the intervention by Santa Casa and other partners, within the scope of the RADAR Project, which in less than a year georeferenced around 30.000 elderly people, residing in the 24 parishes of the city of Lisbon, with the aim of understanding the conditions they lived in, what their needs were and what answers they needed to have an autonomous and comfortable life.
In August of that year, Santa Casa’s first specialized pediatric dentistry service was inaugurated: SOL – Saúde Oral in Lisbon. A free pediatric dentistry service aimed at all children living or studying in Lisbon, from 0 to 18 years old (not included).
The year ended with the launch, in November, of the Santa Casa Longevity Awards, which reinforced the institution’s commitment to the “Lisbon, City of all Ages” program. These awards reward, every two years, a total of 300.000 euros to scientific research projects that best respond to each of the strategic axis of the “Lisbon, City of all Ages” program: active life axis, autonomous life axis and assisted life axis.
In 2020, working for good causes made even more sense. In the midst of a public health crisis, Santa Casa reinforced its action in the most diverse areas of action in order to continue supporting those in greatest need. The Covid-19 pandemic increased the weaknesses of some sectors and caused an increase in the number of people in vulnerable situations, which made more citizens seek help from the Misericórdia de Lisboa.
At a time when everyone had to stay at home, Misericórdia de Lisboa was home to thousands of Portuguese, increasing responses on the front line. During the pandemic, it continued to help around 1700 people, mostly elderly people in social isolation. Geriatric and community support assistants continued in the field, to respond to the needs of users who benefit from this service. Health facilities remained open to the public, with doctors and nurses providing health care. In permanent and assisted residences, users had full support during the first confinement, decreed in March 2020.
The population +65 years old was conditioned by Covid-19, with the pandemic increasing the number of elderly people living in isolation. To fight this menace, Santa Casa reinforced its action on the ground through the Radar Project, in order to be able to listen to and take care of the problems of the capital’s senior population.
And because it was also necessary to respond to the needs of nurseries, Santa Casa created, in partnership with the ABC-Algarve Biomedical Center, the COVID Lares Line, which provides support 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in a project developed with the Ministry of Labor, Solidarity and Social Security.
But Covid-19 was also felt in the emotional stability of the Portuguese, who, from one moment to another, saw their lives conditioned and their future compromised. Casa do Impacto, the social entrepreneurship hub of Santa Casa da Misericórdia in Lisbon, launched acalma.online, as a response to the effects of the pandemic on mental health. The free online psychological support platform was a fundamental support for the hundreds of people who benefited from this aid.
The culture sector was also in a “state of emergency” with Covid-19. This is why Santa Casa joined forces with three other entities to create the Solidarity with Culture Fund, a measure designed to support cultural professionals, whose livelihood has been at risk due to the loss of income caused by the pandemic.
In the last quarter of the year, Misericórdia de Lisboa reinforced its action in the health area. The Chelas Clinic was donated to the institution and the acquisition of the Red Cross Hospital was officialized.
Although the pandemic has affected the State’s Social Games sales revenue, with a drop of around 40% compared to 2019, Santa Casa started, in 2020, the expansion of the Santa Casa Gaming retailers’ network in different areas of the country (continent and islands). This reinforcement, which will be completed in 2021, will add another 1500 new mediations, in a robust contribution to the sustainability, revitalization and stabilization of the country’s social economy.