The archive of the Luoghi Pii Elemosinieri, or almoners’ charity houses, is a vast and articulated documentary complex, the result of over seven centuries of activity that is still ongoing.
Between the early fourteenth century and the mid-eighteenth century, Milan saw as many as forty charity groups come into being and develop out of strong individual initiatives that became consolidated only at a later date under reforms during the Austrian (1784) and Napoleonic (1801) eras. Around the same time this consolidation was accompanied by the multiplication of care services, in the form of charity schemes, institutes for the workless and the sick, soup kitchens, dormitories and professional training centres. All were connected in one way or another to the activity of the Luoghi Pii Elemosinieri (almoners’ charity houses) and to other institutions that, after the Unification of Italy, inherited their assets, archive and functions. These were the Congregazione di Carità (congregation of charity) from 1862 onwards, then the Ente Comunale di Assistenza, or Eca (City Council Welfare Board) from 1937, the Amministrazione delle Ipab ex Eca (administration of public institutions of charity and care, ex-Eca) from 1978, and since 2003, the Azienda di Servizi alla Persona Golgi-Redaelli (Golgi-Redaelli Services for People Trust).
Besides these live accounts of Milanese solidarity dating back to the Middle Ages, parchments and papers of the Luoghi Pii Elemosinieri (almoners’ charity houses) feature biographical, family and social matters in the private correspondence of the benefactors from Lombardy and beyond, in documents where the carefully managed ‘heritage of the poor’ slowly sedimented over seven centuries, and in the continuous weave of charity organisations and wider Milanese and Italian society.