San Pedro hospital

In New Spain, consistent with the Tridentine precepts of episcopal rule over charitable institutions, the Archbishopric of Mexico had established, at the outset, a scheme dedicating a fixed amount of its tithes to the construction and maintenance of an episcopal hospital, and sometime around 1545, the Royal Hospital of San Pedro was founded in Puebla by the Cathedral Chapter and by decree of Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza.5s For the following three centuries, San Pedro Hospital would become, as Escamilla Gonzalez asserted, one of Puebla’s Bishopric’s leading political and social projects^9 In fact, since the sixteenth century, the Tlaxcala-Puebla Diocese had struggled to force its rival religious and secular institutions to relinquish control over health institutions. The subject of its efforts was, on the one hand, the three mendicant orders in charge of hospitals for Indigenous peoples - the Franciscans, Dominicans, and Augustinians - and, on the other hand, the city council, responsible for Puebla’s second hospital, the San Juan de Letran Hospital. Bishop Palafox not only managed to take control over San Juan de Letran but he also succeeded in completely remodeling and reinvigorating San Pedro Hospital in both architectural and administrative terms. Palafox’s reforms included strengthening the hospital’s Council and instituting the

Congregacion (Congregation) of San Pedro, a confraternity of high-ranking secular clerics, among them members of Puebla’s Cathedral Chapter. At the same time, Palafox provided the confraternity with a new charter. He planned to elevate the confraternity’s intellectual, ethical, and moral level.60

In his address to the congregation, Palafox raised the concept of charity from an Aquinian perspective. Based on theological principles, charity is one of Christianity’s highest virtues. The notion of caritas (charity) links to the act of assisting the needy, the poor, and the sick. This he clarified to the members of the San Pedro Congregation in the following terms: “Charity I call divine love, which is what gives us and administers this inferior charity and sacred love of creatures to take them to God.”61 Besides strengthening the hospital’s administrative structure, Palafox contributed enormously to its architectural fabric. Around 1570, a report by the standing bishop and city council had described the hospital building as built “on flimsy ground and lean edifices”; in other words, it was a collection of poorly constructed barracks.62

However, after a series of interventions and improvements, by the end of the viceregal period, San Pedro Hospital represented one of the most sophisticated buildings dedicated to medicine and healthcare in the City of Puebla and the whole viceroyalty. In effect, Palafox’s tenure represented the beginning of an era of significant improvement and transformation for the building. From an architectural perspective, San Pedro Hospital was an architectural complex that possessed the hospital grounds and a church building attached to it to the south. The hospital’s architectural layout is a cruciform shape that splits the complex into four sections (see Figure 4.5).

An aerial view of San Pedro Hospital, Puebla. Source-. Courtesy of Ruben Olvera

Figure 4.5 An aerial view of San Pedro Hospital, Puebla. Source-. Courtesy of Ruben Olvera.

The cross is, in effect, two very long wards (the longest, which runs north- south, is approximately 85 m (290 feet) in length) that intersect at their middle points, where the transept is marked on the upper floor by a dome. The southeast quarter is articulated by a strikingly large square courtyard, some 20 m (65 ft.) per side, that also connects the building to the street through its main portal. The cruciform ward was a common typology in late medieval and early modern hospitals, exemplified by the famed Ospedale Maggiore of Milan by Filarete (1456), and in the Spanish world by the Hospital of the Holy Cross in Toledo (1504-1515), one of the first Renaissance buildings in Spain. The cruciform model allowed for more efficient surveillance by the staff stationed at the cross’s center, and it was where mass was conducted. Furthermore, one ward was exclusively for males and the other ward for females, a change introduced during Palafox’s tenure, as he turned the San Juan de Letran Hospital, formerly a women’s hospital, into a female orphanage, transferring female patient care to San Pedro Hospital.

The hospital’s grand courtyard articulated a two-storied arcaded cloister, whose half-arches were supported by robust Doric columns built toward the beginning of the seventeenth century. In 1998, archaeological excavations found several mass graves along the courtyard’s western wing, as bodies were buried there when several epidemics in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries struck the city. In turn, the wards were organized by types of disease and ailment, so that traumatology patients, for instance, were separated from those with ailments that were considered infectious diseases, or “malignant fevers” as an eighteenth-century chronicler described them, in order to avoid contagion.63 Although detailed documentation of Palafox’s architectural contribution to the hospital is limited, he wrote of having created a labor and maternity wing. Besides, he has been credited with remodeling the hospital’s facades in the traditional seventeenth-century poblano style of red brick, herringbone-patterned finish, with white stuccoed jambs, cornices, and architraves.64

However, the hospital reached its splendor more than a century after Palafox left Puebla. By the late 1700s, the hospital was characterized by an austere series of long, tall, vaulted wards intended to promote air circulation. A series of domes with pierced lanterns on the roof of the hospital’s wards also facilitated the natural flow of air and light, an architectural feature promoted by the acceptance, at this time, of the capacity of diseases to spread via air.

Finally, the addition of twin wards in its northwestern quadrant, the completion of the present state of the church building, and a state-of-the-art pharmacy, marked the hospital’s grandest moment in the 1790s. However, Palafox’s critical contributions should be considered to have begun the hospital’s transformation into one of the most important and advanced healthcare institutions in New Spain.

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