Physicians and Surgeons at the Hospital of the Holy Spirit in Rome in the 17th-18th Centuries


  • Marian Surdacki



Hospital, Modern History, Santo Spirito


Founded in 1198 by Pope Innocent III, the Hospital of the Holy Spirit in Rome, the largest hospital in Europe, served two functions: it was a shelter for the underprivileged and a hospital and clinic for the sick, the so-called infirmary, which at certain times, especially in times of epidemics, accommodated about a thousand sick residents. The hospital specialised in the treatment of feverish patients and those injured or in need of surgery. The importance and size of the hospital was reflected in the number of eminent physicians and surgeons, which was unparalleled in any other European hospitals. At certain times in the 18th century there were about twenty of them in total, but as a rule there were always at least four chief physicians and two chief surgeons as well as four assistant physicians and two substitute surgeons. In addition, when the number of patients increased, extra physicians and surgeons were employed, who often worked for free in the hope of attaining full employment. Among the physicians and surgeonsthere were specialists of the highest calibre, who not only combined the practice of medicine with teaching but were also the authors of outstanding works and scientific dissertations on medicine and philosophy. Many of the physicians and surgeons working at the hospital also served as papal physicians. The most important duty of chief physicians and surgeons was to visit the patients twice a day.