The School of Anatomy and Surgery at the Sacra Infermeria dates to the 17th Century, when Grand Master Cotoner announced that he would be opening a medical school in 1676. Later during the 18th Century, the school would flourish and produce a number of exceptional pupils. One of the pupils was a renowned ophthalmologist Joseph Barth, who was born in Valletta in 1746. Joseph Barth started his medical education at this institution, before moving abroad to further his studies. He went to Rome as well as Vienna, where he earned his medical doctorate in the year 1772. He also became a Professor of Ophthalmology and Anatomy at the University of Vienna. Barth was also appointed as Emperor Joseph II’s oculist. After his retirement in 1791 he continued to serve as a personal imperial physician and ophthalmologist until he died in 1818 at the age of 71.

Michelangelo Grima was another successful pupil; he was also one of Henin’s students who was mentioned in the previous article. He started his apprenticeship at the medical school at the age of 14 in 1743. Seeing his talent, the Order of St. John paid for Grima to travel to Europe and further his studies in becoming a surgeon. As part of the agreement Grima had to return to the Island once he finishes his studies. From the University of Pisa, Michelangelo Grima received a doctorate in Philosophy and Medicine. Moreover, he was also appointed as a dissector in Florence. During the Seven Years War he also served as a surgeon with the French army in Cassell, Germany. Due to his experiences in treating wounded soldiers, Grima specialised in the field of traumatic surgery.  Furthermore, when he returned to Malta, he became the Chief Surgeon at the Sacra Infermeria and passed on his knowledge to his students. Michelangelo Grima was one of the most talented surgeons of the 18th Century and was known for his accuracy and speed whilst performing complicated surgeries. During his time in charge at the Hospital, between 1763 and 1797, the School of Anatomy and Surgery was at its peak.

        Michelangelo Grima 

On the 1st of September 1771, the school was incorporated within the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Malta, which was set up in 1769 by Grand Master Emanuel Pinto de Fonseca. In 1798, the Order of Saint John was forced to leave Malta. Nonetheless, the Faculty of Medicine continued to prepare students for a career in surgery. It is interesting to note that it still does till this day and age, albeit from a different location at the Mater Dei Hospital, almost three and a half centuries after it was set up thanks to Grand Master Nicolás Cotoner.

The latest development in the long history of this historic building came only in the recent years, when a new virtual museum, titled ‘Reliving The Sacra Infermeria’, was inaugurated. The idea of a virtual 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. You can try out a free trial at home by downloading the application from here (IOS) or here (Android). If you have any problems trying it out, reach out to us on Facebook!


Grima, J. F. (2018, December 16). The Origins of Malta’s Medical School – December 19, 1676. The Sunday Times of Malta, pp. 60-61.

 Rozena, S. Disease and Dissection: A History of Surgery in Malta. Museum of the Order of St. John. Retrieved June 16, 2021, from 

Cassar, P. (1969). Malta and its Medical School. Chest-piece, 3(1), 11-15.

Cassar, P. (1983). From The Holy Infirmary of the Knights of St John to the Mediterranean Congress Centre. Malta

The Author

Matthew Camilleri | Colour my Travel
By Published On: June 16th, 2023