The "Corsia Sistina" (Sistine Ward) is located in The Monumental Complex of Santo Spirito in Saxia in Rome (Borgo Santo Spirito Street), not so far from St.Peter's Basilica and the Vatican City. It was erected in the late 15th centurry by Sixtus IV - the Pope of the Sistine Chapel - after sacks and fires had ruined the old hospital.
The Corsia Sistina is now the hospital's main historical building. It is adorned with a cycle of frescoes commemorating the history of the former hospital, its rebuilding and the biography of this famous Franciscan Pope, on one side, and the history of Sixtus IV, on the other side.
Surmounted by an octagonal tower, the Corsia is an immense hall, 120 metres long, divided into two sections separated by the Tiburio (lantern): the two rooms were called Lower Wing and Upper Wing.
In its centre, you can admire an altar attributed to Andrea Palladio, probably the only Roman work, with a painting by Carlo Maratta (seventeenth century).
Under the lantern there was the altar of St. Job, which was later covered by a small temple with a marble frieze attributed to Andrea Palladio. In front of it, there was a pipe organ which, during meal time, used to spread harmonies to give relief to the patients. In fact the music exerts a positive influence, mitigating the suffering, inducing drowsiness, causing relaxation of nerves.1
In the second half of the nineteenth century the Sistine Ward’s two rooms were named Sala Lancisi and Sala Baglivi after the two renowned doctors who worked in the hospital (Giovanni Maria Lancisi and Giorgio Baglivi).
On the occasion of the Jubilee of 1650 the Preceptor Stefano Vaio performed embellishments and paintings in the Church of the Santo Spirito, and made the Sistine Ward cleaned up. A small window was then open from the Commendator's apartment (located where today the Library is): it looks onto the Sistine Ward to oversee the performance of the Hospital at any time.
At the entrance from Borgo Santo Spirito, Sala Lancisi is on the right and Sala Baglivi on the left.
Just past the entrance you can admire a wonderful marble portal called “Portale del Paradiso” (the Gate of Heaven), attributed to Andrea Bregno.
It was described by Dott. Alessandro Canezza: « A large rectangle marble, with fluted pilasters of rare paonazzetto (very valuable type of marble) with purple reflections, circumscribe the door surmounted by a crescent in which there is a shell, where two little angels support the Della Rovere's emblem».2
Close to the gate of Bregno, on the left side, stands the "ruota degli esposti" (baby hatch), created by Innocent III for the reception of the orphans.
The Entrance from Borgo Santo Spirito
“Portale del Paradiso” (the Gate of Heaven)
On the Right side of the Gate Of Heaven we can find "Il deposito degli infermi " that corresponds to the current reception, where the sick and infirm were welcomed, washed and then visited before being hospitalized in extreme cases.
The Entrance from Sala Baglivi
Andrea Palladio's altar
Frescoes and statues of the Apostles
Sala Lancisi, the first half of Sistine Ward
From this box the Commendator was able to keep under control the situation.
This door leads to the little apothecary of the Hospital
Sala Baglivi, the second half of Sistine Ward
The dual framework, interrupted by a Crucifixion of 1750, superimposed to remove the gruesome vision of infanticide, depicts the place where the innocent victims were thrown into the Tiber. You can see the Mole Adrianea (Castel Sant'Angelo), with its overlying square tower, decorated with battlements and the statue of the Angel, from which the cylindrical monument derives its name, on the top.
To the right of the picture, a tree in bright hues rises on low vegetation of the shore while a boatman pushes the boat, which was to contain other fishermen intent to fishing.
Several inscriptions follow the paintings, all made by Bartolomei Sacchi, also called the Platina, including the following3 :
"QUO AUTEM EXPEDITIUS NEFARIAE MULIERES IN CLANDESTINUM
STUPRUM PROLAPSAE FLAGITIUM SUUM OBTEGERENT
PARTUM FLUMEN IN AND BRIDGE NOCTU DETRUDI MOLIUNTUR. "
"Women perverse, falls in rape illegal, to hide their guilt, try to throw the newborn into the river, at night."
"TIBER FREQUENS MANY SCELERISTESTIS
ET MINISTER INFANTES NOCTU DE
PONTE PROIECTOS TACITIS EXCEPIT
MERSITQUE VORTICIBUS. "
"The Tiber often witness and minister of such a crime, received and submerged the little children thrown from the bridge in its tacit vortices"
Legend has it that Pope Innocent III had had a horrible dream. Between Castel Sant'Angelo (Hadrian's Mole) and the old Pons Neronianus, fishermen extracted tender little bodies from the waters of the Tiber, caught in their nets: wretched women threw them into the river, eager to clear the result of their fault.
The fishermen of the Tiber gave to the Pope inanimate and cold bodies of drowned children.
"PESCATORES DUM SAGENAM IN TYBERI DUCUNT PRO VIVIS PISCIBUS MORTUOS INFANTES NON SINE HORRORE EXTRAHUNT."
"Horrified fishermen, while throwing their nets into the Tiber, instead of live fish, pull up dead children."
The vision of Pope Innocent III corresponded to reality.
Appalled at the sight of this mess, the Pope commanded to build a hospice in place of the Schola of the Saxons for the innocent and helpless, for those who fall prey to diseases.
"HIC INNOCENTIUS III DE COMITIBUS ADMONITUS PER ANGELUM UT
HOSP.LE PRO SALVANDIS EXPOSITIS EDIFICET LOCUM IN SAXIA
DESIGNAT UBI PASSIM OMNES RECIPI ET EDUCARI DEBEANT.
ISAIAE XXXXIII. DICAM AQUILONI DA. ET AUSTRO NOLI PROHIBERE AFFERRE FILIOS MEOS DE LONGINGUO ET FILIAS MEAS
AB EXTREMIS TERRAE ".
"Here Innocent III, warned by an angel to build a hospice and save the exposed, designates the place Sassia, where everyone can be admitted and edutated.
I will say to the kite … and to Ostro … : let my children be brought from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth".
Sala Baglivi is adorned with a cycle of frescoes commemorating the history of the former hospital, its rebuilding and biography of this famous Franciscan Pope.
Innocent warned by the angel, designates the hospice to house and educate children exposed ancient Schola of the Saxons
Ruota degli esposti (baby hatch)
The "Cross of Lorraine", the coat of arms of the Santo Spirito
House Della Rovere Emblem
- Photos and main text by Alessandro Ciolli moc.liamg|9illoicordnassela#| and Augusto Ferrini moc.liamg|7inirref.otsugua#| (January 2015), courtesy of Dott. Pompeo Martelli, Responsabile ad Interim UOS. Tutela e Valorizzazione Complesso Monumentale S. Spirito in Saxia e Biblioteca Lancisiana".
- Locate the item on this Google Map
- M.L.Amoroso, Il Complesso Monumentale di Santo Spirito in Saxia. Edizione bilingue italiano-inglese, Newton & Compton, Roma 1998, pp. 25-26
- Pietro De Angelis, L'Ospedale di Santo Spirito in Saxia - Volume II - Dal 1301 al 1500, Roma 1962