In the 15th century, an institution was started by Barnabas of Terni (date of birth unknown, died 1474 or 1477). He was an Italian Friar Minor and missionary, who established the first ‘monte di pieta’, Italian for ‘mount of piety. It was an institutional pawnbroker run as a charity in Europe from Renaissance times that gave people who were poor access to loans at reasonable interest rates.

The genesis of funds came from charitable Italian donors, used as capital, to provide loans to individuals, so they could avoid going to exploitative lenders. Originating in cities as an early form of charity, it was intended to be a reform against monetary lending. People in need would come to the institution and give an item of value in exchange for the monetary loan. The term of the loan would last the course of a year and would only be worth about two-thirds of the borrower’s item value. In effect, ‘mount of piety’ served as a quasi-pawn shop rather than a bank.

A pre-determined interest rate would be applied to the loan and these profits were used to pay the expenses of operation the ‘monte di pieta’.

Over the subsequent centuries, the ‘mount of piety’ spread throughout the continent of Western Europe, due to the preaching of Franciscans and their condemnation of usury (practice of lending money and charging the borrower interest, at an exorbitant high rate) with later support by both Dominican preachers and humanist intellectuals of the 15th century.

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