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from issue no. 12 - 2005

Neglectis reiectisque ab omnibus

by Simona Benedetti

The Hospital of San Gallicano in Trastevere in a print by Giuseppe Vasi, mid XVIII century

The Hospital of San Gallicano in Trastevere in a print by Giuseppe Vasi, mid XVIII century

The charitable work of Don Emilio Lami da Monterotondo, initially performed in the Santa Galla hospice for the poor (where homeless people were taken in, many of them suffering from skin diseases), then, by the intercession of Cardinal Corradini, in a rented house near the church of the San Benedetto in Piscinula, is the background to the work promoted by Benedict XIII who decided on the construction of the San Gallicano hospital to provide treatment for people suffering from skin diseases.
As soon as he was elected Benedict XIII gave Cardinal Corradini the task of finding the site for the construction of the new hospital, to be built with the pontifical funds of the Dataria from the income of the Jubilee of 1725. Benedict XIII’s aversion to luxury is well documented. A contemporary and well-informed source reports the criticism he levelled as cardinal at the magnificent papal stables of the Quirinal: «How much better it would have been if that money had been spent on helping the poor and not on the comfort of animals!».
Lami made a «small sketch» for the new building to indicate the functional distribution of the spaces, turned into a plan initially with the help of the architect Lorenzo Possenti. Nevertheless it was Filippo Raguzzini «Neapolitan, formerly architect in Benevento to his Holiness», who was appointed for the definitive design of the hospital. He adopted the main features of the project and also some innovative functional suggestions, probably deriving from Lami’s experience in the field, such as the open gallery for opening and closing the windows from the outside (placed higher up than the level of the patients’ wards) or the provision of the sanitary services all in marble, «so that the water flows very abundantly there and cleans them all», set in niches, shut by doors, located in the perimeter walls of the wards, and ventilated by fans in correspondence with openings in the outside walls disguised as round decorative elements.
The ground plan of the original building foresaw two long wards, one for men and the other for women. The two ends were for the quarters of the staff (clerics for the men and virgins for the women). Parallel to the stretch of the patients’ wards (a total of 160 meters) extended the body of the services block: spaces with walkways for the winter; rooms for the dying who were removed from shared spaces; loggias small and large for hanging laundry in winter; spaces with “washbowls for the infirm”; kitchens; refectories, etc. The basements were given over to storage space and coach house.
In the heart of the whole composition emerges the church with central plan and covered by a dome, architectural and urban focus of the complex, both functionally (a large window and two doors on each side of the interior church, in correspondence with the patients’ wards, enable the sick to attend religious services), and figuratively: on the street front, in fact, the body of the church breaks up the very long vista of the building disrupting the repetitivity of the walls and volumetrically reinforcing the modulated formal scansion of the side blocks.
The convex and concave architectonic lines of the altogether Baroque church, united to the large entrance arch, formally mark and enhance this core of the hospital complex, dedicated «to those abandoned and rejected by all».
In the epigraph at the hospital entrance it says: «Benedict XIII father of the poor erected this large and imposing hospice, endowed by the annual census, for the care of the abandoned and rejected by all who suffer from heads itching from the mange and from scabies, and to snatch them from the jaws of an untimely death. In the year of salvation 1725».

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