The dangerous illness of Cardinal Cisneros that began the golden age of Spanish medicine
“Forsaken of all doctors,” as his biographer and secretary put it, Cardinal Cisneros was about to die in Granada in 1501 due to the ineffectiveness of the physicists of the Catholic kings. Curiously, she was a Moorish healer, with some poultices, “without purges or bleeding”, the one who managed to amend the “great and dangerous” illness of the Archbishop of Toledo, who a week later was already riding his horse. This experience would be decisive so that shortly after the founder of the Complutense asked Rome for papal authorization for the collation of degrees in Medicine at the new University of Alcalá.
The agonizing episode acted as a catalyst for a medical revolution led by the Hispanic Monarchy in the 16th century and that would forge a generation of gold. His promoters, such as Cisneros himself, who promoted scholarships for students without resources, or the philosopher Juan Luis Viveswho called for the modernization of healthcare through the incorporation of public institutions in the administration of hospitals and the professionalization of doctors, apothecaries and nurses in their works, drank from the humanist postulates, from concepts such as dignity and technique.
“The first represents the morality of humanism that places the person at the center of himself and of society. The second involved science: study, observation, analysis and conclusions. In other words, the humanist method”, summarizes Gonzalo Gomez Garcia in Heal bodies and save souls.
The work of the professor of Ancient and Medieval History at the Francisco de Vitoria University and honorary professor-researcher of Modern History at the University of Alcalá de Henares, which joins the Fundación Banco Santander Fundación Fundamental History collection, is a novel x-ray, with documentation unpublished, on the development of medicine in the 16th century in Spain and in America, when modern hospitals with group work structure were created: doctor, surgeon, nurses and apothecary.
After a century characterized by a shortage of doctors —Jews and Arabs, expelled by decree or by force of arms, had kept the tradition alive— and assistance in rudimentary hospitals guided by charity, the city of Complutense became a kind of epicenter of renewal , both because of its University, where future doctors were trained in arts and philosophy before beginning their practices with the poor —some, see the case of Francisco Valles de Covarrubiasone of the brightest of this unique generation, would end up as kings chamber physicians, in your case Philip II—, as by the Antezana Hospital.
[La olvidada epopeya del español que conquistó el ‘Far West’ americano]
In this institution there were summer and winter nursing rooms for women and men, a dissection room, an apothecary, a water bath to soothe, kitchens, a cemetery, a soup kitchen, a chapel open to worship, the chaplain’s room, bedrooms for nurses, convalescence rooms and even weighty evangelizations, such as that of Ignatius of Loyolawho worked as an assistant before inaugurating the Society of Jesus.
One of the nurses, the venerable Carmelite Francisco del Niño Jesús, highly appreciated by Lope de Vegatook three camels to the hospital and organized performances to entertain mourners humble, turn their sorrows into laughter. That was another novelty of the period. Even the Alcalá corral de comedias, the oldest in Spain, had an agreement to donate part of the proceeds from the tickets to the Antezana Hospital.
But this model, which was perfected with the incorporation of Anatomy and Surgery chairs or the authorization to dissect cadavers, was exported overseas. In the American viceroyalties A network of hospitals was built —general and Indian, to deal with the great European epidemics— and universities —at the height of 1640 no other European power had even founded an academic center— that promoted humanist training; and even enriched the Spanish pharmacopoeia thanks to the knowledge of new indigenous medicines.
The Spanish doctors of this particular Golden Age published first works and unique previews in psychology, urology, pharmacy, anatomy, surgery, nephrology or epidemiology. The obstetrician John Alonso de Fontechafor example, was the author of Ten privileges for pregnant women, a groundbreaking work in which he defended all pregnant women, from any condition. “For all that man is capable of, she is, and for even more he can conceive,” she wrote.
Speaking of women, in the 16th century there appeared the first nurses who did not wear habits: they were lay women, single, married or devout who were learning a trade, a profession. Isabel Rodríguez was in the first American expeditions of Diego Columbus Y Hernan Cortes. He made tourniquets, applied hot oils and water as ointments that acted as archaic anti-inflammatories. But the first documented salary for a nurse in Alcalá, in 1576, is in the name of Maria Martinez. Surprisingly, he was paid the same as the men.
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