- Building for the Sacra Infermeria in Valletta began in 1574
- The infirmary was complete by the 16th century
- It served the sick and wounded from Malta and beyond
- For centuries, it was one of Europe’s leading hospitals
On November 7, 1574, Grand Master Jean de la Cassière convened a meeting of the Order of Malta Chapter General, its supreme legislative body, to determine whether the Order should build an infirmary in Valletta.
Being Malta’s capital city, Valletta seemed a fitting place to build an infirmary where the Order could care for the island’s sick and dying, as well as provide shelter to pilgrims in need.
The Chapter General readily agreed in favor of building the hospital, in keeping with the Order’s charism of care for the poor and the sick. Later that year, construction began.
Referred to as La Sacra Infermeria (The Holy Infirmary), the hospital was completed near the end of the 16th century. It quickly became a hub for medical care, treating not just the poor and the sick from Malta and neighboring Gozo, but foreigners of many different nationalities.
Construction of Valletta’s Holy Infirmary
When first built, the infirmary had two main wards: the Old Ward and the Small Ward.
The hall was 155 meters long by 10.5 meters wide and over 11 meters tall. This made it one of the largest halls in Europe at the time!
An extension in the form of a large, continuous hall was added to the Old Ward in 1666. The hall was 155 meters long by 10.5 meters wide and over 11 meters tall. This made it one of the largest halls in Europe at the time!
The Small Ward, with only 20 beds, was reserved for dying patients. Women were not allowed to enter this ward.
In addition to the Old Ward and the Small Ward, there were several other wards as well.
There was the Ward for the Wounded for civilian surgeries, St. Joseph’s Ward for sick convicts, the New Ward for patients with intestinal disorders, the Knights’ Ward for members of the Order, and two Lithotomy Wards for the removal of bladder stones.
By 1787, the Sacra Infermeria in Valletta had 563 beds and could hold a whopping 914 beds in case of emergency.
The Great Magazine Ward was located in the basement of the infirmary. This ward consisted of 109 beds for sailors and soldiers of the Order, as well as galley-slaves. Then, on a second basement level, was the Magazine Ward with 36 beds for the mentally ill.
There was also the Phalangue which was an irregularly shaped section of the infirmary reserved for patients suffering from contagious or venereal diseases. In the Phalangue, five rooms were specifically sectioned off for venereal disease patients needing mercury inunctions.
By 1787, the Sacra Infermeria in Valletta had 563 beds and could hold a whopping 914 beds in case of emergency. That’s more than the Mayo Clinic Hospital in Arizona has today (it has 268)!
Want to learn more about the Sacra Infermeria in Valletta? There are more blogs about this historic Maltese hospital on the way!