Many confraternities of men and women who dedicated their lives to charitable and welfare activities were located in Anghiari. They were more or less founded in the mid-1300s, particularly starting in 1348, when the Black Plague decimated Europe.
Many of these organizations, each one distinguishable for the colour of the cloaks their members wore, had evocative names and inspired named: the Confraternity of Santa Maria della Misericordia (or Neri), the Fraternity of Santa Maria del Borghetto (or Anghiari), the Confraternity of Sant’Antonio, San Jacopo e San Cristoforo, the Confraternity of the Santissimo Crocifisso (or Corpus Domini).
The confraternities carried on until many of them were suppressed by Gran Duke Peter Leopold in 1785, and their goods were transferred to the diocese, which had taken over any charity activities. Despite this, the authority of the new confraternities was such that they were not nearly as popular of their ancestors. In 1791, the Confraternity of the Spirito Santo, active since 1564, was relaunched and recognized by the Grand Duke and church. Soon, however, the French took over and suppressed the confraternity a second time, though it was started up again after the Napoleonic era. It stood out especially during the typhus fever epidemic in 1817.
It was during this period that the confraternity added a cap to their clothing, similar to the one worn by members of the Misericordia in Florence; this is why they began to also be called the Confraternity of the Misericordia. Members worked to care for the sick throughout the municipality of Anghiari, carrying them on their shoulders and sometimes putting them up in the rooms of their headquarters at the abbey.
In the mid-1800s, to facilitate transporting the sick to the hospital in Sansepolcro, the confraternity was given a trolley, becoming a sort of precursor to the modern ambulance. In 1870, the Misericordia Hospital was built in Anghiari, which was later transferred to the Convento della Croce in the early 1900s.
The museum, decorated with the ruins of 15th-century frescoes, is located in the former Church of S. Bartolomeo Apostolo, which has hosted the confraternity since 1817. The museum conserves objects from the organization’s social work carried out in and around Anghiari over the centuries and covers the town’s history, culture and traditions. Some of the pieces on display include the health tools and equipment used at the hospital.
The material started to be collected in 1975 thanks to some members of the confraternity, especially the local historian L. Babbini. The tools date to the late 1800s, including a trolley from 1861, a small cart-trolley from 1909 used for emergencies, a cart-trolley pulled by hand and an iron stretcher for lifting the sick from the bed. Some of the most important pieces on display in the museum are historic cart-trolleys and clothing worn by the members of the Misericordia in the 1800s, handwritten statutes from the previous confraternities and priceless reliquaries. Visitors can also admire the beautiful architecture and 15th-century frescoes in the main hall, once a medieval church.