Baltazar Guedes, son of the trader Luís da Costa Rosa and Lourença Guedes, was born in Porto, in Rua Nova (now Rua do Infante D. Henrique), on 6 February 1620. He was baptized on 11 February by his paternal uncle, Pantaleão da Costa e Vasconcelos, and his godparents were Domingos de Moura Coutinho and D. Brites Leite.
Baltazar, the eldest of four brothers - Pantaleão, Maria and Luís, lost his mother in 1627 and his father in 1637. He spent his childhood with his uncle and soon showed a vocation for the spiritual life and for the protection of orphans.
After he completed his studies, he lacked the money to become a priest. He begged the intercession of Our Lady of Grace in the old Porto chapel, a modest temple of unknown origin, said to have been erected by D. Mafalda, wife of D. Afonso Henriques, or by D. Catarina, or then built in times of the plague, and to have tombs inside it as well as images of Saint Anthony and the Holy Christ in the side altars and altars of Saint Sebastian and Our Lady of Hope in the altarpiece.
His prayers were heard, as told by Baltazar Guedes himself: it was Saint Anthony’s day, and when he left the chapel, he found a sponsor.
After he was ordained priest in 1644, he sought to fulfil his old dream of setting up an institution to accommodate the less favoured, because there were many in Porto. On 29 October 1649, the City Council allowed him to live near the chapel, and he was also given a strip of land. From then on, he lived with a poor student who later joined the Order of S. João de Deus, and continued the work aiming to establish a school for the orphans of the city and of the diocese of Porto. He was allowed to collect handouts throughout the country, a common practice in those days.
To the handouts he collected throughout the country along with two orphans he added the alms received in masses, the heritage left by an uncle and the earnings resulting from the books he printed and the sacred objects he produced.
This is how the Royal College of Nossa Senhora da Graça dos Meninos Órfãos was established in Porto. It took its name from a nearby chapel and from the objective of the institution, founded by Royal Charter signed by King João I, dated 30 January 1650.
The opening ceremony was held on 25 March 1651, on the day of Our Lady of Encarnação, and the founding stone was laid on 21 November of the same year, in a ceremony presided by the Cathedral Chantre, Fernão de Freitas de Mesquita. The statutes were drafted by the founder of the college in June 1652. First, they were approved by the Porto City Council, on 20 August 1653, and later by the Court on 11 October 1655, and finally they were confirmed by a papal bull signed by Clement XI in 1712.
The dormitory was completed in 1659, and in 1674 the three sections of the buildings were ready, and the chapel enclosed within the fourth building. Then new church was built by Gregório Fernandes.
Besides being very pious, Baltazar Guedes was a man of many talents. He was reputed to be a good speaker and to be gifted for manual work, being able to sew clothes, vestments and ornaments. He translated ascetic works and wrote the booklets to the "Memória das Águas que vêm para as fontes da cidade" [the memory of waters that supplied the city] and "Breve relação da fundação do Colégio dos Meninos Órfãos de Nossa Senhora da Graça, sito fora da Porta do Olival desta Cidade do Porto, em a qual se contém tudo o que na fundação dele sucedeu" [brief history of the College of Orphan Children]. He collaborated in the public works of the city, such as the repair of deteriorated roads and the repair of "do cano da água de Paranhos" [water pipes], and was possibly the author of the project for the fountain do Fonte da Arca, in the old Praça Nova.
Father Baltazar Guedes died in Porto on 6 October 1693 in mysterious circumstances that gave rise to a legend disseminated by Father Fernandes da Soledade. According to him, Baltazar Guedes was buried two days after his death because, oddly enough, his body remained warm and flexible and his cheeks were flushed. This situation only changed when the doctors that cared for him ordered the orphaned children to pray to S. João de Deus. One of them noticed that one of the ribbons held by Baltazar Guedes was moving. They placed a heavy object at the end of the ribbon, but it still moved. They then placed it on the head of the deceased, who only then took his two last breaths.
On the third day, the body was placed in the coffin and buried in the church of the College of the Orphan Children. The Council Senate organized a grand funeral, which was followed by Porto residents of all social classes. Baltazar Guedes was buried near the door that linked the college to the cloister, in a shallow grave without any inscriptions. The nearest wall has a marble tombstone with the following epitaph:
"HERE LIES THE FIRST RECTOR AND
FOUNDER OF THIS COLLEGE OF
ORPHAN CHILDREN, BALTAZAR GUEDES,
ON SIX OCTOBER SIXTEEN
By will dated 1693 (the third and last will he wrote), Baltazar Guedes determined that the orphan children were his heirs. The same document appointed Father Manoel de S. Bento as his successor, and Father João de S. Pedro as Vice-rector of the College.
On 4 November 1803, when the classes of the Royal Academy of Maritime and Trade Affairs of the City of Porto were formally inaugurated in the houses of the College of the Orphan Children, this marked the end of an era for this institution.
The plan of the Academy, by engineer-architect Carlos Amarante, determined that the first floor would be used to accommodate the orphans and the college church.
However, the housing conditions of these spaces were very poor. As the work progressed, the facilities of the College were being taken over by the Academy by means of compensations. For example, in the report of the City Council of 1873, the councillor representing the administration of the College complained that the orphans lacked lighting and fresh air. The councillor that succeeded him, the industrialist José Carneiro de Mello, submitted new complaints in his reports, obtaining many benefits for the orphans, for example, the payment of tuition and allowances to students that went to high school and university, in addition to academic awards.
Councillor Alfredo Menéres planned the transfer of the College to new premises and the transfer of the remains of the founder to a nobler tomb.
The compensation paid by the State for the appropriation of the College heritage was negotiated by the city of Porto. The institution was temporarily transferred to Rua dos Mártires da Liberdade, no. 237, and in 1899, during the City Council sessions, they suggested the transfer of the College to the derelict building of the old Seminary of Porto, founded in 1803 and abandoned two years later. The plan of the new construction was disclosed on 30 November 1899 and the project was approved on 13 September 1900. Although some people did not agree, the works progressed and on 17 September 1903 the orphans were already settled in their new house, in Monte do Prado. The church was blessed on 31 August 1906 and inaugurated on 28 October of the same year, with a celebration dedicated to Our Lady of Grace.
Three hundred years after the publication of the royal charter that established the College, former students of the College met at a meeting. On this happy occasion, they decided to build a monument and lay a stone in memory of Father Baltazar Guedes, as well as to publish a monograph on the College.
The stone was laid on 7 April 1951 in the building now occupied by the Rectory of the U.Porto which at the time also housed the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Porto and other university establishments. It had the following inscription:
"This place was founded by the benefactor Father Baltazar Guedes, on 25 March 1651, the Royal College of Orphan Children, near the chapel of Our Lady of Grace, built, according to tradition, by vote of the first Queen of Portugal. The first classes of the Royal Academy of Navy and Trade Affairs took place in the building of that College, the predecessor of the Polytechnic Academy. The City Council of Porto – 25 March 1951."
In that year, a statue of Baltazar Guedes was inaugurated, produced by José Fernandes de Sousa Caldas and placed in Padre Baltazar Guedes Square, in front of the current building of the College of Orphan Children. On that same occasion, a publication celebrating the 3rd centenary of this asylum was launched, entitled "Breve relação da fundação do Colégio dos Meninos Órfãos de Nossa Senhora da Graça, sito fora da Porta do Olival desta Cidade do Porto, em a qual se contém tudo o que na fundação dele sucedeu pelo Padre Baltazar Guedes". It is prefaced by Artur de Magalhães Basto and the Porto City Council was responsible for its publication.