Saturday, September 15, 2007

A MOST UNUSUAL MUSEUM























































Although I had visited Modica seventeen times before settling here and have been here for over two years , I would not have known of the existence of the Museo Tommaso Campailla had I not chanced upon a newspaper article about it last month. Tucked away in two rooms in what was the Ospedale Santa Maria della Pietà and is now a municipal office building behind the Piazza Matteotti in Modica Bassa, the museum is not signposted, nor is it mentioned in any guide book which I have consulted. To visit, you have to make an appointment and this was not easy: of course no one answered the number given in the newspaper during August and when I did get through this week I was told I would have to ring another number. This, in turn, proved to be a wrong one and eventually I rang the tourist office and yes, it is their staff who have the keys and act as guides for the visit, so I made an appointment for yesterday morning. To my shame, I arrived there in the good old Italian punctuality tradition of 45 minutes late, due to the fact that a one-way system has been introduced in the via Sacro Cuore, causing buses to be rerouted and resulting in chaos [which I am sure to rant about at length in another post]. I apologised and was told there was no problem. Sometimes there is much to be said for those with pazienza.



The museum is unusual because it is devoted to the treatment of syphilis. Tommaso Campailla [1668 - 1740] was first famous as a poet and philosopher. He was admired by the Irish philosopher George Berkeley who came to Modica to meet him. It was not until the death of his father that Campailla was able to indulge his passion for medicine, for at that time, the profession was not considered respectable. I have been unable to ascertain why or how he became interested in the treatment of venereal diseases, but treat them he did, creating wooden botti [barrels] for the patients to sit in and inhale mercury infusions , an idea that appears to have been pioneered in France, where the patient's head would project from the top of the "barrel". Campailla's design was squarer, and the patient sat with his /her whole body in the "cabin". The wood was of a special kind which Campailla ordered from abroad and to this day, no one knows exactly what it was.

First the "cabin" was heated to 70 F by a brazier and then, the brazier removed, the patient would enter, carrying a small oil lamp for light, which he / she would hang on a nail, and a smaller brazier which he / she would place on the ground beneath his / her feet. [Many prostitutes were treated.]There were two holes in the door of the cabin, and through the top one the patient was monitored. Through the second, at the bottom of the door, the mercury infusion was poured onto the small brazier. The dose for a first treatment was half a gram of cinnabar and a pinch of incense [the incense being added to facilitate breathing]. This was doubled at the next treatment. Eventually, the patient would sweat the infusion off, back onto the small brazier. The sessions lasted for ten minutes, on alternate days, and normally a patient would have nine or ten treatments. In more serious cases, two grams of cinnabar would be used and the patient would receive up to thirteen treatments. After a "cabin" session the patient would lie on a bed to continue the "sweating it out" process. By all accounts the treatments worked provided the disease was caught early enough and some patients with rheumatic conditions were also treated.


In the pictures you can see the actual botti and some of the instruments used. The fifth photo shows an instrument for separating blood from plasma and on the right of the seventh one you can see early electrical centrifuges. The last picture shows a chair, from a later era, which was used for gynaecological examinations, for the building continued to be used as a hospital for many years. Campailla's methods were used until the discovery of penicillin.






















































16 comments:

Sir James Robison said...

Very, very unusual and you are certainly finding some interesting things lately. Or maybe you've already found them and are blogging on them now.

Beaman said...

Not good for a claustrophobic. Fascinating post.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Very nice of you to say so, James. Well, I wanted to post on this museum as soon as I read about it but it wasn't possible to visit it till yesterday. I knew about carob and carats before but not about the 40 centisimi per kilo till a friend told me this week, so I researched it a bit and posted.
Thanks, Beaman. I should think the treatment was distressing enough, but even more so if you were claustrophobic! Yet what other choice did these poor people have?

Shades said...

It looks a bit "clapped" out...


I'll get my coat!

PinkAcorn said...

Certainly an unusual practice to be in but I imagine he had quite a few customers, ha! There is a museum in Seattle,Wa you need to make an appointment for....to see everything you wanted to know about Big Foot. Kinda hokey but my husbands brother was enthralled...

Crushed by Ingsoc said...

It is scary to think how recent most real medical knowledge was then- most treatments being fairly hit and miss.

Mercury was used to treat syphilis, I believe.

jmb said...

What a treasure you found and so interesting. I'm afraid I would be too claustrophobic too for that treatment. I knew that arsenic was a pre-penicillin drug of choice and had not heard of mercury being used also.
regards
jmb

Eurodog said...

What does JMB have to say about this one?
Fascinating read and quite a find WL.
Bon dimanche.

Sally said...

That was a really interesting post Welsh, I'd never heard of your good doctor. As you know, syphilis came into Italy from the east through Venice in around 1450 and was so prevalent that the city made registration of all brothels and prostitutes mandatory in the 18th century - Casanova was a victim and received the mercury treatment. The Venetians built a huge hospital for the syphilitic - called aptly, the Incurabile. By the mid-18th century probably over 20% of all Venetians had the disease, and the side effects of the mercury treatment were horrific.

lady macleod said...

Facinating! Well done in your perseverance . It makes one grateful for the advent of antibiotics for oh so many reasons!

I actually saw a chap with end-stage syphillus in my youth. It was horrid. His heart was the size of a bucket, and it had eaten his brain. I do believe I may have considered a nunnery!

Liz said...

Fascinating museum. And interesting that to be a poet was more acceptable than to be a doctor!

My first idea was that it was an early sauna and I suppose it is the same principle.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, Shades. I was waiting for someone to say that!! I'm sure he did, pink! That sounds an interesting museum in Seattle. You're right, Crushed - scary to think how recently this was used. Hi, jmb. Yes, some patient just couldn't withstand the treatment. It must have been horrific. Thanka, eurodog. Buona domenica to you, too. Thanks for your kind words, Sally and for the extra information. I was wondering about the side effects. Lady M, that must have been horrific and such a sad sight. Then there were all the cases of syphilis being passed on to innocent wives and children. Hi, Liz. Yes, I suppose it's the sauna principle. Wasn't that great that to be a writer was so respected?

Lee said...

Very interesting, Welsh. I video-taped a programme which was on television over the weekend and got to watch it yesterday afternoon (Sunday). I didn't want to miss the programme as it was a holiday/travel show produced by Aussie TV and it featured Italy...from Lake Como, south to Palermo, Sicily. I try never to miss anything that comes on television about Italy, as I think you may already be aware..this was a great show and covered a lot of ground.

Jacque LeBlanc said...

Aloha,

Wow! Next time we go to Modica, we'll have to see this too. Thanks for the weird tip!

Jacque at alohafromsicily.blogspot.com

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Ciao, JL. Yes, do come and have a look!

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, Lee. That sounds like a fascinating programme. I think we know more, from your blog, about your interest in Italy now!

Counters


View My Stats