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Europe’s oldest hospital and the “project” wheel

The foundation of the hospital of Holy Spirit in Sassia, one of the oldest in Europe, dates back to the 12th to 13th century, and is linked to the will of Pope Innocent III (1161 – 1216). The pontiff ordered the construction of a hospital along the banks of the Tiber, not only to offer shelter and care to the sick and old, but also, and perhaps above all, to give a chance of survival to the many abandoned newborns and babies, condemned to certain death along the streets of medieval Rome. According to tradition, Innocent dreamyt an angel pointing his accusing finger towards mothers who threw their newborn creatures in the waters of Tiber. In many cases, these women were not monsters at all, but they decided to abandon their children for the impossibility of caring for them, for the need of hiding an illicit relationship that had to be kept secret, for extreme poverty. Abandoned children ended up dying of malnutrition and disease, and, in the case they managed somehow to survive, they often took the path of brigandage and malpractice. Eager to offer the little victims a chance of survival and redemption, Innocent had the new hospital equipped with that wheel still opening in Borgo Santo Spirito, 2. It consists of a window equipped with a wooden cylindrical box that was rotated to allow those outside the structure to deposit a newborn without being seen. Inside the hospital, an attendant turned the mechanism to bring the baby inside, and then entrusted it to the care of doctors and nuns. Once refueled, the children’s clothes were marked by the Priory with a double cross and the children were ‘exposed’ a second time in the wheel for possible adoption. If they were not so lucky to find new parents, they were still provided with assistance, food and education. The current wheel is no longer the original one, but dates back to the 15th century; nontheless, it is still fully functional. On the left side, embedded in the wall, a box for offerings, on which is still distinguishable, even as consumed by the centuries, the inscription “Alms for the poor foundlings of the hospital”

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