Epilepsy care in 15th century Northern Italy

1Neurology Department, “M.Mellini” Hospital, Chiari, Italy; 2Spedali Civili Library, Brescia, Italy; 3Social Studies Department, The Faculty of Economics, University of Brescia, Italy; and 4Foundation “Morcelli” Library & “Repossi” Picture Gallery, Chiari, Italy

In the 15th century, two institutions administered hospitals in Northern Italy: the Christian Congregation - the only centralized organization to survive the collapse of the Roman Empire - and the City Council.

The Church taught that it was a religious duty to care for the sick and had set up universities to train doctors. Galeno's works were seen as fulfilling Christian ideas and were still read by doctors in the 1400s.

The City Council also recognized that public health was important for all of the community. At first, the Council gave money for the building of hospitals but did not become involved in their running. Later, many hospitals had financial problems and could not provide for the needs of the people. The Council decided with collaboration of the religious congregations to amalgamate their oldest hospitals in one big hospital.

By the middle of the 15th century, Brixia (today called Brescia) had thirteen important hospitals managed by the Christian Congregations. In addition, there were two small lazarettes that cared for those with bubonic plague - the Black Death. On 26th March 1447, the building of a Great Hospital by the Republic of Venice, Doge Francesco Foscari (Brixia was under the dominion of " La Serenissima"), and Pope Eugenio IV, was approved. The Municipality Administration in agreement with local Bishop Pietro del Monte joined 7 of 13 hospitals to create the Great Hospital.

Before this, the Council was influenced by the practice in several major European cities and had decided that some hospitals should specialize in the care of particular diseases. One hospital was set up for women and another for men. In 1442, the Municipality had designated one of the two lazarettes of the city by a resolution - St. Bartholomew's in Clausuris - to care for patients with epilepsy. Maybe St. Austin's Congregation (Congregazione di S.Agostino) - that managed this lazaretto - admitted patients with "falling sickness" for devotion into St. Bartholomew's Church and into hospital. For several time this hospital cared patients with Epilepsy. In 1451, St. Bartholomew's in Clausuris became part of the Great Hospital.

Although the causes of epilepsy were unknown, it is clear that epilepsy was recognized as a condition that required specialized care. We will discuss of the role of religious and civil institutions to care Epilepsy in 15th century Northern Italy.

1) Archivio Storico di Brescia, Fondo Ospedale Maggiore, Bolle di Fondazione
2) Guerrini P. S.Bartolomeo al lazzaretto.Memorie storiche della diocesi di Brescia, Vol. XV, pp 64-67, 1948
3) Mariella A. Le origini degli ospedali Bresciani. Commentari dell'Ateneo di Brescia. Geraldi, Brescia, pp 122-123, 1963

Session IV -- Epilepsy
Monday, 3 June 2002, 9:00 am

Seventh Annual Meeting of the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN)

Los Angeles, California, USA