The Ospedale del Ceppo in Pistoia used to be one of the oldest hospitals in Tuscany. The magnificent colorful glazed terracotta frieze that adorns the façade was made between 1526 and 1528 by Giovanni della Robbia and Santi Buglioni. A small museum is attached to this former hospital.
Ospedale del Ceppo Pistoia
The address of the Ospedale del Ceppo is Piazza Giovanni XXIII, 1 – 51100 Pistoia (tel. +39 0573352040). Opening Hours: Saturday and Sundays and holidays from 10:00 to 18:00; Tuesday to Friday from 10:00 to 14:00. Admission fee: 3.50 Euro. (Opening hours and entrance fees are those of the Museo dei Ferri Chirurgici).
History and Description
The Ospedale del Ceppo was founded in 1277. Its full name is Santa Maria del Ceppo Hospital.
The name (ceppo is Italian for “tree stump”) comes from a chestnut stump that was used for collect offerings. According to a legend, the hospital was built on the spot where a devout couple saw a chestnut tree in bloom in the middle of winter.
OveInr the course of the Middle Ages, the hospital grew larger and larger, becoming an important support for the poor and sick, especially in times of food shortages and epidemics.
The loggia was built in the early 16th century. The magnificent colorful glazed terracotta frieze was made between 1526 and 1528 by Giovanni della Robbia and Santi Buglioni. (However, the panel themed “The Thirsty Lavender” was done by local artist Lorenzo de’ Paladini.)
The seven panels that make up the frieze depict the “Works of Mercy” interspersed with the “Cardinal Virtues.”
The works of mercy, starting from the left, are “clothe the naked, shelter the pilgrims, visit the prisoners, bury the dead, feed the hungry and quench the thirsty”. The virtues are “Prudence, Faith, Charity, Hope and Justice”.
The frieze was commissioned by the cleric Leonardo Buonafede.
A prestigious medical school, founded around 1680, was attached to the hospital but had to close in 1839 when the school system was changed.
Museum of Surgical Instruments
The hospital itself continued until 2013, when it was replaced by a new one called San Jacopo. Now it houses a museum and a very small Anatomical Theater. It is also the starting point of an underground tour. This is 600 meters long and leads past a Roman bridge, two mills, an ancient city gate with drawbridge and some medieval washing places.
In the small museum attached to the hospital some surgical instruments are still on display. The objects exhibited in this Museo dei Ferri Chirurgici are mostly from the 18th and 19th centuries. Old medical manuals are also on display.
In the garden of the Ospedale del Ceppo is a restored 17th century “anatomical amphitheater” where public dissections of cadavers used to take place.