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There’s no time to lose… Santo Spirito is waiting for us!


Good morning free spirits! Are you falling in love with Rome as I do? I’m sure about that! Yesterday I tasted an amazing dish: Catalan 47. My headlights are still fogging up at the thought! If you go to the 47 Circus Roof Garden I really suggest to take it… Let me know how does it taste!

Catalana 47

Now we really should keep going on our tours around the city. Today, continuing the path of the last time, I would like to show you one of the most ancient building in Europe: the arcispedale of Santo Spirito in Saxia, initially called “Scola Saxorum“. The arcispedale today is a very important congress center next to the most modern Santo Spirito hospital. You know, this structure was wanted by the king of Wessex. The king ordered to build the Schola as close as possible to the tomb of St. Peter and even provide it with an annual donation (called Romescot), which was paid at least until the sixteenth century by all the most important families of Wessex. In fact, at the beginning of the 8th century, the Schola was meant to receive a thousand of Anglo-Saxon pilgrims who visited Rome annually and in particular the countless holy places, such as the tomb of the Prince of the Apostles. History also tells that even King Macbeth played a leading role in Shakespeare’s drama here.

The Schola lived a period of prosperous life; but due to historical events such as the invasion of the Normans in England, in 1066, and the beginning of the crusades, which conveyed crowds of pilgrims to other destinations, the institution lost its importance and only its name survived. Pope Innocent III bring it back, making it one of the most famous hospitals in the world. On November 25th, 1198, the Pope appointed to the Hospitaller Order founded by Guido of Montpellier its management and safeguard.

In the same years, the Schola, which was officially a hospital, became famous above all for a story related to the Roman orphans. In 1200, the creation of the “wheel of the exposed” was widespread in Italy and it seems that everything started from Pope Innocent III who, since he was bothered by the great number of newborns drowned into the Tiber, decided to have this wheel built right in the Santo Spirito hospital.

The exposure of unwanted infants was a widespread practice in every social class of the ancient Rome and in the Middle Ages the practice had remained in vogue, especially for “children of guilt” (children who were born outside the marriage and prostitutes got into trouble due to an unwanted pregnancy). 

The most hasty way to get rid of these children was to throw them into Tiber when they were just born. I know that the story I am telling you is not the  the most beautiful one, but you must remember that prostitution in Rome was legal since the dawn of time: the legends about the foundation of Rome remind us that the twins Romulus and Remus were adopted by Acca Larenzia, a prostitute or “She-wolf”, as the women who practiced this profession were defined; however, the murder of unwanted children was not legal, rather it was often punished with death! It was for this reason that the Pope decided to erect the wheel of the exposed. Do you want to know what it was and how it worked? Well, actually we can still see it, follow me!

Ruota degli esposti

At number 4 of Borgo Santo Spirito we find the famous wheel. As you can see, it is like a rotating barrel and the newborn was left here in total anonymity. Once left the little baby, the exposed had to ring a bell and the “barrel” and its contents made a turn finding themselves on the opposite side of the wall with the friars. Objects were often left with the child (such as pendants, broken coins …), that perhaps in the future could be used for a recognition and the relative reunion. Newborns abandoned in the Santo Spirito hospital in Rome were “marked” with a double cross on their left foot, thus becoming an official member, a sort of “official son” of the Santo Spirito family.

Next to the hospital there were spaces where the friars prepared medicines, various types of elixirs and everything useful for the treatment of patients.

It is told that these rooms are the same ones that today accomodate the extraordinary National Historical Museum of Sanitary Art, inaugurated in 1933. Inside the museum there is still a well preserved wooden machine, a grinding wheel, which was used to grind the china tree’s bark and produce the famous quinine (the first powerful antimalarial imported from Jesuits from China and Peru). Moreover, there is a well preserved distant relative of mine: the oldest Red Cross carriage!

You’re wondering what that big syringe is used for. Well, try to imagine that we are in a place linked and created by the pontifical world and that some instruments combined care with religion … that syringe, in fact, was used to put the holy water into the fetus; this treatment was carried out in cases presumed of a imminent death’s risk and allowed the fetus to be baptized “directly”.

Palazzo del Commendatore is also part of the Hospital, better known as the Rector of the Hospital, rebuilt on a project by Nanni di Baccio Bigio between 1567 and 1571 on a pre-existing fifteenth-century building destroyed during the Sack of Rome. The work was carried out with the permission of Pope Pio V and at the request of the Commander of the time, Bernardino Cirillo and for this reason known to the Romans as “Palazzo di Cirillo.” Inside the courtyard of the Palace we find the large circular clock, a six hours, placed in the middle of the Gazzoli family crest. Gazzoli’s family crest is placed on the sides of the clock dial, framed by the figure of a snake that laps the tail, symbol of eternity, the coat of arms of the Gazzoli family: an oak on which a magpie rests , accompanied on its head by a six-pointed star, and the emblem of the hospitality of the Holy Spirit: the cross of Lorraine.


The dial shows a central area decorated in yellow, separated with a circular band from the outer crown, which bears in large Roman numerals the six hours alternated by the emblem of the hospitality order. Don’t you tell me anything? Don’t you notice anything strange? The oddities in this case are at least two. First, a six-hour clock, you’re wondering if it was a design mistake… Well no! The clock marks the hours “in the Roman style”, while in the rest of Europe the passing of time was measured “in French style” until the mid-19th century. Rome counted the minutes and hours in its own way, fundamentally adjusting the time to the rhythms of everyday life. The length of the hours was not fixed, but changed according to the hours of light and seasons. Romans’ day was divided into 4 intervals of six hours each(approximately) and the hours were scanned considering the beginning of the day until the Ave Maria at sunset time.

Since you’re already with the lights up, do you notice anything else? Well, my attentive adventurers: the number four, which in Roman symbols should be represented by IV, in this case it is represented by four bars (IIII). To complete the quirks of this watch, you can see that the dial has a single hour mark hand, consisting of a long sinuous green lizard.

santo spirito

Well I could say, as is used here, that “s’è fatta una certa” (Roman figure of speech to communicate that it is late ed) so I will return to the 47 Boutique Hotel and, to remove all doubt, I will personally check every clocks and I will suggest the girls at the reception to set up our own way to marks hours and days: from breakfast in the inner court to dinner on the roof, what do you think?