**** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE ****

Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!


Vesalius The Anatomist
by [?]

“Whether this second operation of the 7th of May was performed by Vesalius, and whether it was that of which Bloet speaks, is an open question. Olivarez’ whole relation is apologetic, written to justify himself and his seven Spanish colleagues, and to prove Vesalius in the wrong. Public opinion, he confesses, had been very fierce against him. The credit of Spanish medicine was at stake: and we are not bound to believe implicitly a paper drawn up under such circumstances for Philip’s eye. This, at least, we gather: that Don Carlos was never trepanned, as is commonly said; and this, also, that whichever of the two stories is true, equally puts Vesalius into direct, and most unpleasant, antagonism to the Spanish doctors. {392}

Olivarez’ ‘Relacion’ is to be found in the Granvelle State Papers. For the general account of Don Carlos’ illness, and of the miraculous agencies by which his cure was said to have been effected, the general reader should consult Miss Frere’s ‘Biography of Elizabeth of Valois,’ vol. i. pp. 307-19.

But Don Carlos still lay senseless; and yielding to popular clamour, the doctors called in the aid of a certain Moorish doctor, from Valencia, named Priotarete, whose unguents, it was reported, had achieved many miraculous cures. The unguent, however, to the horror of the doctors, burned the skull till the bone was as black as the colour of ink; and Olivarez declares he believes it to have been a preparation of pure caustic. On the morning of the 9th of May, the Moor and his unguents were sent away, “and went to Madrid, to send to heaven Hernando de Vega, while the prince went back to our method of cure.”

Considering what happened on the morning of the 10th of May, we should now presume that the second opening of the abscess, whether by Vesalius or someone else, relieved the pressure on the brain; that a critical period of exhaustion followed, probably prolonged by the Moor’s premature caustic, which stopped the suppuration: but that God’s good handiwork, called nature, triumphed at last; and that therefore it came to pass that the prince was out of danger within three days of the operation. But he was taught, it seems, to attribute his recovery to a very different source from that of a German knife. For on the morning of the 9th, when the Moor was gone, and Don Carlos lay seemingly lifeless, there descended into his chamber a Deus e machina, or rather a whole pantheon of greater or lesser deities, who were to effect that which medical skill seemed not to have effected. Philip sent into the prince’s chamber several of the precious relics which he usually carried about with him. The miraculous image of the Virgin of Atocha, in embroidering garments for whom, Spanish royalty, male and female, has spent so many an hour ere now, was brought in solemn procession and placed on an altar at the foot of the prince’s bed; and in the afternoon there entered, with a procession likewise, a shrine containing the bones of a holy anchorite, one Fray Diego, “whose life and miracles,” says Olivarez, “are so notorious;” and the bones of St. Justus and St. Pastor, the tutelar saints of the university of Alcala. Amid solemn litanies the relics of Fray Diego were laid upon the prince’s pillow, and the sudarium, or mortuary cloth, which had covered his face, was placed upon the prince’s forehead.

Modern science might object that the presence of so many personages, however pious or well intentioned, in a sick chamber on a hot Spanish May day, especially as the bath had been, for some generations past, held in religious horror throughout Spain, as a sign of Moorish and Mussulman tendencies, might have somewhat interfered with the chances of the poor boy’s recovery. Nevertheless the event seems to have satisfied Philip’s highest hopes; for that same night (so Don Carlos afterwards related) the holy monk Diego appeared to him in a vision, wearing the habit of St. Francis, and bearing in his hand a cross of reeds tied with a green band. The prince stated that he first took the apparition to be that of the blessed St. Francis; but not seeing the stigmata, he exclaimed, “How? Dost thou not bear the marks of the wounds?” What he replied Don Carlos did not recollect; save that he consoled him, and told him that he should not die of that malady.