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Misericórdia's Bylaws of 1865

A decree by King Louis I, dated May 31, 1865, will approve the new bylaws of the institution, after receiving the favourable opinions of the governor of the district of Vila Real and the attorney general of the Crown.

This document is divided into 20 chapters which sought to update the structure, functioning and activity of the Misericórdia, in the context of the liberal ideology and a secularized society, with the aim of clearly defining what was the State expecting from this Institution in the field of assistance.

What essentially characterizes this bylaws? What is the innovative nature of its provisions? Actually, the organizational structure and purpose of the Misericórdia remained the same. The end of the Misericórdia continued to be “the practice of the virtues of piety and charity”. Other principles, however, were adopted, indicating a break with the past.

The governance of the Institution was carried out by the Junta of the Brotherhood (a kind of General Assembly), representing all the 240 brothers, who had to be “decent, well-educated, God-fearing and polite”, and over 25 years-old; by the Definitory or Council (that included the members of the previous Board, and all the brothers that served as provedores, clerks and stewards, living in Vila Real, and the provedor-in-office, who presided it); and the Board, composed of the provedor, clerk, steward and 12 councilmen, each one paying more than 2000 réis of property tax, and directly elected (the term of office began on July 15 of the election year). The monitoring of the compliance with the bylaws regulations was under the responsibility of the Definitory.

The administration of the property of the Misericórdia was under the jurisdiction of the Board. The provedor, "head of the administration of the Santa Casa and its Hospital”, had to be at least 35 years-old and to pay more than 20 000 réis of property tax. He presided over all the bodies of government of the Institution and appointed every commission at the beginning of his administration.

One of the most innovative elements was the absolute equality among all brothers within the brotherhood (their number now increased to 240), with no distinction of classes, breaking with the traditional division of noble brothers and trade brothers. The only demands, besides being able to read and write, were an "honest living" and the payment of an entry fee of 4000 réis.

The Board began to be elected for two years, and all its members were responsible for the decisions they took part in. The Definitory began to have a clear role, functioning as an audit committee. And it competed to the Government to authorize the acceptance of any legacy left to the Misericórdia or the Hospital.

In short, the bylaws of the Misericórdia of Vila Real of 1865 continued to define the conditions necessary for it to attract the local elite, but updated the principles of its structure and functioning in the light of the liberal society. These rules were in force until the end of the Monarchy, and even during the First Republic (1910-1926) and the New State (1926-1974).

After the nationalization of its Hospital in 1975, the Misericórdia of Vila Real eventually adopted the status of a private charitable institution in 1985, which allowed it to devote itself to other assistance activities.

It was within this new social-juridical framework that the Misericórdia of Vila Real drafted, in 1992, its new statutory regulation, published in the Diário da República (Portuguese Official Gazette) No. 267, 3rd Series, and that is currently in force.