Ospedale di Santo Spirito in Sassia
The Ospedale di Santo Spirito (Italian for Hospital of the Holy Spirit) is an ancient hospital (now a convention center) in Rome (Italy), nearby the Vatican City and next to the modern Ospedale di Santo Spirito, continuing its tradition. The hospital was instituted just in the site where formerly rose the "Schola of the Saxons".
From the Schola of the Saxons to the birth of the Hospital
The early edifice of the Hospital of Santo Spirito in Saxia was the Schola, erected by the King of Wessex Ine (689-726). At the beginning of the 8th century the Schola had been conceived to host the great number of Anglo-Saxon pilgrims visiting Rome - and in particular its innumerable holy places, like the tomb of Saint Peter. Bede wrote that "Nobles and plebeians, men and women, warriors and artisans came from Britannia". This pilgrimage lasted centuries; in that period Rome enjoyed such a fame that at least ten sovereigns are known to have come ad limina Apostolorum": the first of them was Cædwalla, King of the Western Saxons (685-688). Following the foundation of the Schola, the whole quarter took an exotic character, so that it was "town of Saxons"; even now the right bank of the Tiber is called Borgo (Italian for village). At the beginning of the pontificate of Leo IV a violent fire - portrayed by Raphael in the fresco The Fire in the Borgo - devastated the quarter of the Saxons and also damaged the Scholae of the Frisians, the Lombards, the Franks and the Saxons themselves, coming to affect St. Peter's Basilica. Such an extended fire had to be malicious: it was probably set on by Saracens, penetrated up the river. Pope Leo IV looked after the reconstruction of the Church of Santa Maria in Saxia and of the Schola of the Saxons, in which many kings of Northern Europe, like Burgred of Mercia, or the Prince Alfred the Great, found rest after an exhausting journey.
A prosperous period followed; but, due to historical events such as the Norman invasion of England in 1066 and the beginning of the Crusades, which routed the crowds of pilgrims towards other destinations, the institution declined and just maintained its name. Innocent III was the Pope who brought it back to the top, modifying it and making it one of the most famous hospitals in the world. Furthermore, on November 25, 1198 he approved and recommended the Order of the Hospitallers, through the bull “Religiosam vitam”, by which he welcomed Guy de Montpellier and the institution he had founded under the protection of the Vatican.
In order to protect and uphold the orphan children, Innocent III dedicated them a new institution, the renowned "ruota degli esposti" (baby hatch), where the abandoned children were left.
Soon afterward Reginald, Bishop of Chartres, offered to the Hospital -at that time called "Santa Maria in Saxia" - a prebendary of his church. Thanks to the consecration of this new institution, Innocent III created a statute of rules for the Order of the Hospitallers, who was entrusted with the management and the safeguard of the Hospital, under the control of Guy de Montpelier. In 1201 the same Pope endowed to the Hospital of Santa Maria the church with the same name and its incomes. This deed sanctioned the birth of the Venerable Roma Hospital of Santo Spirito in Saxia, while the bordering church became a hospitality shelter. At the beginning of its existence, the new structure only consisted of a rectangular aisle enlightened by little windows, with a capacity of 300 patients and 600 indigents. The Hospital received conspicuous donations, like the ones by the King of England John Lackland, who granted "The donation of the Church of Wirtel and of its incomes as an endowment to the Hospital", or the ones by the Pope himself, who erected new edifices alongside of the new institute and, starting from January 1208, granted to the new structure the privilege of Sacred Station on the sunday following the eighth Epiphany, thus increasing the zeal of the faithful. The celebration was accompained by a procession and a solemn ceremony, after which the Pope donated 3 dinars to the members of the Hospital and to 1000 poor men. It was a very important event, that gathered the people into the rising institute. The Pope pronounced a very significant homily, that began with the words taken from the Gospel of John: "On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding [...]". The roman Hospital was enlarged by many Popes and, century after century, it gained greatness and splendour, so that Pope Pius VI could proclaim it "The throne of Catholic Charity".
Guy de Montpellier
Guy de Montpellier is known as a knight templar coming from the Montpellier family of the counts of Guillaume. He built in his native town an Hospital House, that rose in the area now called "Pyla-Saint-Gely", and founded a regular order of Hospitallers Friars (1170), consecrated to give assistance to infirm, abandoned children and whoever needed help and cares. Documents dating back to the decade 1180-90 prove that the Hospital of Montpellier already had great importance, such as the new Hospitallers order. These documents show the existence of 6 Houses of the Holy Spirit all over France, following the model of Montpellier. By giving rise to the Holy Spirit organization, Guy wanted that ”the assistance and care were free from the cold-heartedness of a paid service, and raised up to the degree of a sacred duty, deserving to be compared to the pureness of the Apostles and early Christianity age”. The future Pope Innocent III, during his stay in France, had had the opportunity of admiring this effective institution and commented: "Here the hungry are fed, the poor are dressed, the orphan children are breeded, the infirm are rendered the necessities and all kind of consolation is given to the poor. Therefore The Master and the Friars of the Holy Spirit should not be called hosts of the poor, but their servants, and they are the real poor men, as they charitably share the necessity to the indigent". As soon as he ascended the papal throne, Innocent III publicly celebrated the institution of the Houses of the Holy Spirit: ”Through hard informations we know that the Hospital of the Holy Spirit, founded in Montpellier by our beloved son Friar Guy, shines over all the other hospitals in terms of Religion and practice of the greatest hospital charity, as all the ones that experienced it can testify”. Innocent III esteemed Guy insomuch as to appoint him commissioner against the heretics in France. With the 1198 bull he confirmed the foundation of the Hospitallers and placed them under his protection, together with all the French branches and the ones that were rising in Rome, such as Santa Maria in Trastevere and Sant’Agata on the Via Aurelia. The yearning of Guy was lucky enough to meet the thought of Innocent III. The Pope himself, in a letter to the bishops of France, proclaimed Guy as a “God-fearing man, dedicated to the good works”.
The arrival of Sixtus IV
In 1471 the Hospital suffered an imposing fire that leaded it to a crumbling condition. Sixtus IV, visiting the Hospital soon after his election (1471-1484), described it: “the falling walls, the narrow, gloomy edifices, without air and whichever comfort, look like a place intended for the captivity rather than health recovery”. He decided the immediate rebuilt, in view of the Jubilee. Thanks to Sixtus IV, the hospital enjoyed a real rebirth, thus becoming the most important place for scientific research: it hosted famous doctors, such as Giovanni Tiracorda, the personal doctor of Clement X, Lancisi and Baglivi, who conducted important medical projects. Furthermore, within the Antica Spezieria (Italian for Ancient Spicery) the use of quina bark was first experimented for the treatment of malaria.
- Pietro De Angelis, L'ospedale di Santo Spirito in Saxia, Biblioteca della Lancisiana, Rome 1960, volume I.
- Maria Lucia Amoroso, Il complesso monumentale di Santo Spirito in Saxia - Corsia Sistina e Palazzo del Commendatore, Newton & Compton editori, Rome 1998.