Probably the most interesting feature of the early history of the hospital movement is the spirit of evolution to meet growing needs and developing ideals which it manifested. In spite of the judicious consideration devoted to the establishment of the original hospital of the Holy Ghost at Rome, it was not long before it proved inadequate for its purpose. One of the eminently noteworthy things that constantly repeat themselves in history is that where a social need is discovered and a remedy found for it, it is not long before the need increases to such a degree as to outstrip the original remedy. Before half a century had passed Innocent’s successors declared in unmistakable terms that the original hospital was entirely too cramped and crowded.

Accordingly, a much larger and handsomer building was erected. Visitors to Rome admired the new building, and it proved an incentive for larger plans for hospitals in other important cities. At the end of the thirteenth and the beginning of the fourteenth centuries some really imposing edifices were erected as hospitals, especially in towns of Italy. It was at this time that the artistic Italian mind seems to have realized the truth, which has only come to be recognized again in quite recent times, that a hospital building should be as fine a structure as the finances of a city will permit. It was felt that nothing was too good for the ailing citizens and that the city honored itself by making its public buildings a monument of artistic purpose. The earliest example of how well this was accomplished is to be found at Siena, whose hospital continues to be down to the present time one of the most interesting objects of admiration for the visitor…The hospital movement of the thirteenth century, however, culminated in monuments as famous and as architecturally beautiful as any that have been built in recent years.

…It is typical of the times in many ways. We have only just begun again in very modern times, as we have already said, to consider that some of the best of our buildings in any large city should be those intended for the sick and the poor of the community. The city must respond nobly to its civic duties. The idea, however, came so naturally to the medieval mind that apparently there was no question about it. Only in very recent years has come the additional thought that these buildings must be appropriately decorated, and that the work of the greatest artists of the time can have no better place for its display than the walls of a hospital or a great charitable institution. Bartolo’s frescoes, on the walls of the hospital at Siena, tell the story of the work that was done for foundlings and pilgrims as well as for the sick in the early days of its establishment. The first picture of the series represents the baptism of the children that had been picked up and brought to the hospital.

James J. Walsh, The Popes and Science (1908)


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