HomeSynergeiavol. 3 no. 1 (2009)

Early Social Assistance in Spanish Manila: The 1606 Statutes of the Misericordia

Juan O. Mesquida

Discipline: Religion, History



The Misericordia of Manila was an association of laymen founded on April 16, 1594. The complete name of the institution was the Santa Hermandad de la Misericordia (Brotherhood of Mercy), and it was inspired by the Portuguese Casa da Misericordia (House of Mercy). Similar institutions in predominantly Catholic countries were grouped under the generic terms of confraternities and brotherhoods, both terms being interchangeable in the ecclesiastical and demotic language of the time (Diccionario, vols. 2 and 4). All of them fostered devotional practices among their members, and some, like the Misericordia, also engaged in charitable works.


For most of the Spanish period of Philippine history, the Misericordia played an important role as a provider of social assistance and as a major source of credit for the Spanish community of Manila. In spite of its relevance, little has been published about the history of the institution (Schurz 1985, 139-42; Cushner 1971, 139-52; Díaz-Trechuelo 1997, 71-90; 2001, 345-66; Mesquida 2003, 423-62; 2005, 59-81; 2008, 85-109; Yuste López 2004, 181-202; 2007, 91-101). This study discusses the statutes of the Misericordia as drafted in 1606 in order to make the primary source of the objectives and organization of the Misericordia available to historians. The original statutes were revised twice in the eighteenth century, but most of the ordinances remained in force until the demise of the Misericordia in 1869.