As seen in the previous article the Order of Saint John gave prominence to the medical sector, so much so that the hospital of the time was known to be amongst the best in Europe. This would not have been achieved without the right employees.
An important aspect at the Infermeria was providing an adequate diet. The kitchens were located underground within the Sacra Infermeria itself, and would have been busy preparing large meals for the patients staying at the hospital. There would have been a cook, who was in charge, accompanied by 1 or 2 assistants. The kitchen would also have had several baptised slaves, selected from the slave prisons, to help with the preparation of food and distribution. The slaves were also tasked with menial tasks such as cleaning and washing.
The Kitchen would have been a busy place.
The medical team at the Sacra Infermeria was made of highly qualified men who would have received training and work experience from abroad, mainly from Italy or France. However, by 1676, students could also study and train for their career locally since the School of Anatomy and Surgery was erected. These included a number of resident senior and junior physicians and surgeons, as well as a number of barberotti also known as barber surgeons, whose tasks included blood-letting and the application of leeches and poultices.
Another important role was that of the Chief Pharmacist who managed the Spezieria. The role of the Spezieria was to prepare the medicines that had to be used at the Infermeria as well as the Casetta, which was the nearby hospital for women, the slaves’ prisons, and the Order’s galleys. The Chief Pharmacist also had to accompany the Chief Medical Officer on rounds to make sure that the medicine was being administered correctly. Two pharmacy assistants known as spezialotti were also employed to prepare prescriptions. A Clerk also was present in order to keep record of what was being handed out and to whom. He also had to keep an account of supplies and remaining stock.
The Barber Surgeon
There were also a number of individuals who were employed as nurses, known as servi or guardiani. Nevertheless, something that caught people’s attention was that the Knights themselves had to take turns in caring for the patients, as this was also part of their vows. As part of their training novice Knights used to be given nursing training and were expected to carry out hospital duties once a week. A roster used to be issued between the different nationalities, everyday a different Langue would send the younger Knights to accompany the Chief Doctor, as well as serve food to the patients. To set the right example, on Fridays the Grand Master would also turn up to do his duties at the Infermeria. Despite his prestigious position he would sit beside patients and give them food from his own hand, whilst chatting with them and offering words of comfort and consolation. The main notion behind this was to help fellow Knights understand the importance of discipline, as well as maintaining the ethos of the Order, and staying original to their founding mission, that of providing nursing and medical care to those in need.
The latest development in the long history of the Sacra Infermeria came only last year, when a new augmented reality museum, titled ‘Reliving The Sacra Infermeria’, was inaugurated. The idea of an augmented reality museum, which brings together history and technology, was brought about by the need to satisfy visitors’ curiosity about the building’s former history without interrupting ongoing conferences or theatre performances that are regularly held here. Now, by downloading a mobile application that makes use of augmented reality, one can once more relive the building’s former days as a hospital.
Re-Living the Sacra Infermeria is a project co-financed through the European Regional Development Fund.
Cassar, P. (1983). From The Holy Infirmary of the Knights of St John to the Mediterranean Congress Centre. Malta
Zammit, T. (1919). The Medical School of Malta. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine, 12(Suppl), 133-142