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Thursday, 12 April 2012

From medieval pilgrims to 20th Century medicine

Medieval ward round in Siena Fresco
@HealthMed Opposite the cathedral in Siena is one of the oldest hospitals in Europe - Santa Maria della Scala.
Founded possibly as early as the latter part of the 9th Century, with its earliest record said to be 29th March, 1090, it remained in use as a hospital until the early 1990s, its success arising from its key location on the pilgrimage route to Rome.
It was set up to 'set up to care for pilgrims, assist the poor and provide for abandoned children'.
Frescoes on ward walls and ceilings areas provided interest for bed-fast patients. For current visitors they illustrate fashions in poor and wealthy, a major role for the hospital in feeding, educating (and arranging marriages) for the poor, and selected examples of early medical practice. These include examining a water sample, triage of the surgical patient (a young man with a serious, still bleeding, transverse wound on the right thigh), use of hydropathy (water therapy), and preparation for bad news - e.g. a ladder by which a series of babes are climbing to heaven. Patient consultations are attended by ward round retinues of varying size and seniority.
A plaque illustrates some of the sources of funding for the hospital - gifts of money, either in anticipation of a cure, or in thanks for treatment administered.
An early 20th century photograph shows very crowded rows of beds in the longest frescoed ward.

See article for more on Santa Maria della Scala.