Don Garcia de Haro and Juan Martinez - General Don and Sir Robert Mansell
Giovanni Maria Boschetti and the Reverend Louis Orfila
Perhaps the first mention of an identifiable hospital in Gibraltar is that of Nuestra Señora de las Misericordias a large hermitage and asylum which stood on the western side of the main square of Gibraltar.
Plan of Gibraltar -B is the hospital of Nuestra Señora de las Misericordia. It is probably not in the right place ( 1567 - Anton Van Den Wyngaerde - detail ) (See LINK)
The first written mention of at least one other hospital in Gibraltar comes from Gibraltar's very own original historian, Alonso Hernández del Portillo. (See LINK)
Hay mas en esta Ciudad otro hospital donde se cuidan las enfermedades de bubas y llagas el cual fundó un hombre llamado Juan Mateos, que fue primero ventero de Albalate, ( near San Roque ) y peleo cuando entraron los Turcos, (see LINK) a quien todos conocimos, y tuvimos por santo. Vivió y murió en esta Ciudad y en ella se tiene en opinión de santo.
Nombrase este hospital Nuestra Señora de los Desamparados, que hoy lo tienen los Padres de Don Juan de Dios, y se llama de Nuestra Señora de la Salud.
Bottom center and on the west side of the main square of Gibraltar is Nuestra Señora de las Misericordias - the building on the top centre is the hospital of San Juan de Dios ( 1627 - Luis Bravo de Acuña - detail ) (See LINK)
According to Charles Montegriffo a local medical historian writing in the British Medical Journal in 1978:
The hospital was the creation of probably the most colourful medical personality ever to inhabit these shores - Juan Mateos. In his youth Mateos was active in defending Gibraltar against Algerian pirates and became famous in resisting one of their landings, killing the pirate leader. Possibly capitalising on his fame he became a merchant and amassed a considerable amount of money.
Later he became the official "Dispenser of Royal Licences" - a position that must have afforded him many opportunities to make more. Yet in 1567 Mateos seems to have undergone a sudden change of heart, having been particularly affected by the sorry sight of the many sick seamen left stranded in Gibraltar after voyages to the New World as well as by the plight of the poor sick of the town.
He turned his large town house into an infirmary, keeping only a small cell for himself. He lived frugally, ate badly, and wore only sackcloth: his considerable fortune he put to charitable work in running the hospital, and when all his money was gone he spent the mornings begging and collecting alms with which to keep the hospital going. Records show that a disproportionate number of the patients treated, particularly sailors, suffered from a virulent form of syphilis brought over from the New World.
Mateos continued his almost singlehanded work for 24 years and became well known in the surrounding countryside, patients coming to him from far and wide. In 1591 the Bishop of Cadiz came to Gibraltar to visit the saintly man and his medical institution but on meeting him found him so weak "in consequence of much work and fasting" that he arranged for the Order of St John of God to take over the hospital and run it for him.
Mateos joined the order himself but his activities gradually diminished and he died an old man in 1594. His death was a sad blow, and he was lamented and venerated with religious ceremonies lasting several days. The hospital, however, continued to thrive and gave service to the townspeople and the sick for miles around. The main hospital in Gibraltar has remained on the same site throughout the centuries, though from time to time its medical function has been temporarily interrupted.
Although not mentioned by Montegriffo, the hospital was itself a complex which included both a church and a convent which might account for the various names attributed to it over time - from Nuestra Señora de los Desamparados, to San Juan de Dios to Portillo's Nuestra Señora de la Salud. The Spanish Historian Ignacio Lopez de Ayala (see LINK) writing in the late 18th century describes it as follows:
. . . . como la obra estaba trazada por Juan Marcos con el objeto principal de curar los pobres, era muy capaz la enfermera i corta la vivienda de los frailes. La iglesia era de una nave con diferentes altares , i en el mayor se veneraba la imagen de Nuestra Señora de la Salud, objeto de mucha devoción del pueblo.
The Bishop of Cadiz was Don Garcia de Haro. In essence his intervention allowed a group of monks from the religious establishment of San Juan de Dios in Granada to come to Gibraltar where they more or less took the business of running the hospital and going around the town asking for alms. One wonders whether they followed the example of the good Don Juan who was in the habit of going around town shoeless and dressed in what one might interpret today as sackcloth and ashes. In fact his life, generally was one of abnegation of all one might consider to be the good things in life;
Su alimento correspondía a su habito : era muy poco i vil; i atento a las verdades eternas i a la caridad empleaba en oración el tiempo que no gastaba en pedir limosna , i en asistir . curar i consolar a los enfermos. La penitencia i el ayuno lo enflaquecieron i enjugaron de modo que parecía esqueleto.
Garcia de Haro was a man of many talents, Dean of Cordoba, Bishop of Cadiz - and as shown on the badge above - also that of Malaga
As a result of the Bishop's involvement, in 1591 Friar Juan Martinez arrived from Granada. He checked the hospital's finances, found everything in perfect order and immersed himself immediately in the day to day running of the place adding a further 20 beds to those already available and making six of his religious colleagues responsible for them. Whenever the number of patients increased more than normally he sent for help from all the nearby religious houses in the Campo. Meanwhile the bishop allowed the aging Mateos the honour of wearing priestly attire.
When he died a few years later in 1594, the whole town turned up for the funeral where multiple eulogies were delivered while he was buried beside the altar of the hospital's chapel.
It would also seem that the hospital on the hill would soon become a well known institution even outside the Rock itself. In 1620 sailors from a Royal Navy squadron of eighteen ships under the command of Admiral Sir Robert Mansell, were landed at Gibraltar and treated at the Hospital of San Juan de Dios.
When Spain lost Gibraltar the building was taken over by the British administration and by 1708 it was being used as a military store. It then reverted into a hospital changing hands periodically between the Navy and the Army.
In this 1738 map the chapel with its extensive gardens is still being shown as 'The Hospital ( 1738 - Tindal and Rapin - detail )
The inadequate conditions found in the hospital in the early days of the 18th century are mentioned by Robert Poole (see LINK) in his book, The Beneficent Bee which was published in 1748
. . . I went to visit the hospital which stands lower down towards the town and is agreeably situated: this I am informed was formerly a soldiers' barracks and since converted into a hospital for which purpose it is no proper building, as being destitute of many requisites necessary thereto.
The ground floors are paved with bricks and appeared very damp, the wards by much too narrow and the beds placed too thick; and being not provided with windows to fan the fetid air and let in fresh, hence the wards become extremely offensive, and was so far from being proper for the sick to breathe in, that it was sufficient rather to cause diseases, than to assist in removing them.
After this I visited the wards above stairs, which were three; all attended with the like inconvenience for the want of fresh air. I measured one of them, and found it scarcely fourteen feet wide, furnished with beds on each side, near to each other, whereas it ought to have been twice that width to make it convenient for the sick especially as it was not furnished with the convenience of letting in fresh air.
The bedsteads for the generality were only deal boards laid flat down and the bedding was very dirty and mean. I could not help being moved with concern at seeing the miserable situation the poor distressed were in here, in every respect far different for what an hospital for the recovery of the sick ought to be.
I was informed that the whole house can't receive above three score patients when the beds are placed as close as possible, and it is not near sufficient to answer the necessities of the four regiments, which therefore requires some to be taken care of elsewhere.
The four wards are provided with four women or nurses, viz one to each ward, who have as assistants to them two men that are called orderly soldiers. These attend the sick at night and at other times, during the absence of the nurses whether in taking of rest or otherwise.
The conveniences for cooking in these wards are also very miserable, those that I saw being only two small, little smoky huts standing in the open air, just without the entrance into the ward. The water for use in the hospital is brought from the common fountain in the city at the bottom of the Grand Parade; (see LINK) which is a long and tedious way to bring it especially as it is far up the Rock and therefore they must consequently suffer many inconveniences for want of a plentiful provisions of this most cleansing, necessary ingredient of life; and hence, this hospital seems to labour under every misfortune, but that of an agreeable situation. . .
The forepart of this hospital which looks towards the city, is new built, and has a neat appearance. It contains the Surgeon's apartment, together with lodging rooms for the officers and others of the house.A wonderfully detailed and sustained critique of what must have been the most appalling hospital conditions - even by the standards of the early 18th century. As regards the last rather ironic paragraph it was obvious that in those days, the needs of the goose were rarely extended to the gander.
In 1753 and soon after the old Naval Hospital was built, it was referred to as the Garrison Hospital. By the middle of the eighteenth century it was back again in use as military quarters and became known as the Blue Barracks. One of the first Companies of Military Artificers - later known as the Royal Engineers - was formed here in the late eighteenth century. The Great Siege (see LINK) was not kind to the building and it became a more or less derelict ruin.
Gibraltar Main Street just after the Great Siege. The complex of buildings on the hill to the right are almost certainly those of the hospital or Blue Barracks
By the beginning of the 19th century and according to Robert Montgomery Martin (see LINK) writing in 1837:
The building, formerly called "The Blue Barracks" - previously in a state of ruin - having been appropriated and fitted up at the expense of Government was given over for occupation as a civil hospital in 1815.
In the crude early 19th century plan crude map which refers to the spread of yellow fever epidemic of 1804, (see LINK) No 9 is referred to as the Blue Barracks ( 1815 - Sir James Fellowes ) (See LINK)
The conversion of the Blue Barracks into a civilian hospital was carried out by the local architect, Giovanni Maria Boschetti (see LINK). The honour for instigating this important project is attributed to the then Governor General Don (see LINK) - although there little doubt that more than one local resident must have had something to do with it. After all they had paid for it.
In 1820 the Civilian Hospital with three division for Jews, Catholics and Protestants was inaugurated by the Governor, General Don. It was renamed the Colonial Hospital and subsequently became known as the St. Bernard's. There was a plaque inside the hospital itself which stated that the it had indeed been paid for by the Gibraltarians themselves. It was the first recorded use of the name.
Its generosity - and renown - seems to have persisted well into the middle of the 19th century as is evident from the following comment by the Spanish historian Francisco María Montero (see LINK) writing in the 1860s;
A los pobres se les asiste gratis, y los que no lo son pagan una médica cantidad. Además de los pacientes que allí se curan, que son por lo regular unos 50, aunque tiene cabida para 80, se reparten medicinas a los pobres de la población en sus domicilios y aun a los de los pueblos del Campo, cuyo número sube anualmente más de cinco mil. El Gobierno español contribuye con una corta suma anual para este objeto.
Gibraltar must have been blessed with a good number of doctors and other paramedics sufficient at any rate to impress Montero:
El primer medico de la guarnición es el inspector general del establecimiento, y quien preside é los profesores a cuyo cargo está este, los que son nombrados por el gobernador entre los establecidos en la ciudad, muy afortunada por cierto en esta materia, pues los tiene de mucha ciencia y virtud. Todavía lloran los pobres la pérdida del benéfico Doctor Rey.
There was also one final small criticism:
Es extraño que siendo tan atendida la beneficencia en Gibraltar en el ramo de hospitales, carezca de una casa de maternidad para los niños expósitos. Esta falta que no sabemos a qué atribuir, como no sea a la rigidez del protestantismo redunda en perjuicio de los pueblos del Campo, que son los gravados con este onerosa censo.
Civil Hospital rebuilt with a new facade in 1882
The hospital received its own badge after its 1882 reconstruction. Essential this was the coat of arms of Gibraltar but with the serpent of Aesculapius entwined around the key.
In 1958 in what by modern standards would have been considered to be a particularly act of crass vandalism a very old dedication to Juan Mateos in the form of a marble plaque by the side of one of the alters was destroyed without too much thought.
In 1963 the local Government asked the Rev Louis Orfila - Chaplain to the hospital Chaplain to rename the hospital. One can only presume that the 'Colonial' tag was sticking in more than a few of the councillor's throats. After some thought Orfila came up with "St Bernard's Hospital".
St Bernard of Clairvaux
It was based on the fact that had been declared the Patron Saint of Gibraltar on the 20th August 1462 when the Moors had had finally surrendered the Rock to the Christians, nearly 600 years after they had first set foot on it. It was a curious reversal of the usual instincts of Gibraltarian officialdom which was usually to move away from things Spanish and embrace all those that were British.
A ward in what was still known as the Colonial Hospital