Exploring the History of Medicine, Part 18: Venice, Part 13

April 1, 2023


Fire Station

   As mentioned last time, Venice does not have automobiles.

Consequently, there are no fire trucks either, and at the fire station facing the canal, firefighting boats were moored.


San Giacomo del Orio Medical School

   Between the Rialto Bridge and Santa Lucia Station, there is the San Giacomo del Orio Church.

In one corner of the square behind it, you can find the remnants of San Giacomo del Orio Medical School and its affiliated anatomy research institute.

   Modeled after the anatomy lecture halls of the University of Padua, it was constructed in the 17th century.

Unfortunately, it was closed due to a fire in the 19th century.

   Locally, this area is known as the "Anatomy Square."

Nearby the canal, there is a bridge with the unusual name of "Anatomy Bridge."

   The reason it was built facing the canal becomes clear: boats carrying bodies for dissection would arrive through the canal and unload the bodies next to the institute.

Hence the bridge came to be called the "Anatomy Bridge."


   San Giacomo, known as Saint Jacob in English and Santiago in Spanish, is one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ.

In Latin,He is called Jacobus, James in another English and Jacques in French—all of which are male names.

   He was the brother of John, who later wrote the Gospel, and together, they were fishermen on the Sea of Galilee.

While mending their nets, they were called by Jesus and became his disciples.

   After Jesus' crucifixion, Jacob preached in Judea but was executed in 44 AD by King Herod Agrippa I, who oppressed Christians.

He was the first martyr among the twelve apostles.

   After Jacob’s execution, disciples set his body adrift in a small boat, and guided by divine intervention, it reached Galicia in Spain.

There, they buried his body.

Afterward, amidst the turmoil of the Islamic conquest of the Iberian Peninsula, the tomb of Saint Jacob was forgotten.

However, in the 9th century, guided by a bright star, shepherds discovered the tomb in a field.

   The location is now Santiago de Compostela, one of the three major pilgrimage sites in the Catholic Church, alongside the Vatican and Jerusalem.

Compostela means "field of stars" in Spanish.

   During the Reconquista, a period of territorial disputes between Christians and Muslims, it is said that Saint Jacob on a white horse frequently appeared from the heavens, leading Christians to victory.

This is why Saint Jacob is widely worshipped as the patron saint of Spain to this day.

   Scallop shells are a symbol of Saint Jacob. 

In France, scallop shells are known as "Saint Jacob's shells."