Faculty of Medicine and Surgery
- Library & Museums Subcommittee

Virtual Medical History Museum


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Cottoner's School of Anatomy and Surgery

On 19 October 1676, Grandmaster Nicolas Cottoner formalised medical teaching at the Sacra Infermeria by the appointment of Fra Dr. Giuseppe Zammit as lettore in Anatomy and Surgery, while the School of Anatomy and Surgery was founded on the 19 December 1676 at the Grandmaster's expense. Instruction in theoretical anatomy and surgery was given to the barber-surgeons of the Sacra Infermeria and to all other youths who aspired to join the surgical profession provided that they could read and write. The building of the Sacra Infermeria [see picture] was commenced in 1574 and completed four years later under the Grandmastership of Jean L'Eveque de la Cassiere. This hospital catered for male patients. It continued serving its function for clinical teaching until the advent of French rule in 1798 when the Sacra Infermeria was taken over as a military hospital, a role maintained during British rule after 1800.

Anatomical teaching was carried out in dissecting rooms situated opposite the Sacra Infermeria. In the late 18th century, the anatomical theatre was in North Street facing the Infermeria. The "main door, situated next to the Nibbia Chapel [see picture], led to a large semi-circular hall which had 5 windows looking on to the street. Three dissecting tables were placed under these windows. On the wall opposite to the semi-circular side were 2 inscriptions, one reading "ex morte vita" and the other Abernethy's dictum "He who will not dissect the dead will mangle the living". In the centre of the hall were 2 large columns supporting the first floor, while at the farthest was a partition behind which were cupboards containing around 3,000 sets of human bones. A small door led to an area under a flight of steps where the wash-basins were situated and from where one then passed to the outside into the Nibbia cemetery. Just by the main door was a flight of steps leading on to the first floor. The larger part of this floor was used as a lecture hall, while a small area just above the main door served as a Museum where several preserved specimens were kept. The farthest part of this floor was cut off to form the Professor's office".

  Through the agency of Prof. Gavino Portelli, an anatomical theatre was built in 1822-23 in the courtyard of the Civil Hospital also in the vicinity of the Nibbia Chapel; however this survived only until the move of the Civil Hospital from Valletta to the Central Hospital in Floriana in 1850. Anatomical teaching reverted back to the Nibbia dissecting rooms, which continued being used until their destruction in 1942 during the Second World War. Anatomical dissection was in the post-war period transferred to a small room at the back of the Argotti Gardens in Floriana [see picture].  The facilities here were inadequate with lack of refrigeration requiring the cadavers to be covered with formalin-soaked sacking in between dissection sessions. Laboratory studies in chemistry, physics and biology continued in rooms situated in the University .

Collegium Melitensis: Pubblica Universita` di Studi Generali
Through the intervention of Bishop Tommaso Gargallo and the Inquisitor Giovanni Ludovico Dell'Armi, Pope Clement VIII on the 12th November 1592 authorised the building of a Collegium Melitense in Valletta [see picture]. This college was to be managed by the Society of Jesuits, who through a Papal Bull of Pope Pius IV dated 29th August 1561 and confirmed by a subsequent Bull of Pope Gregory XIII dated 9th May 1578, was empowered to confer degree of Magister Philosophiae and Doctor Divinus. Grandmaster Martin Garzez laid the foundation stone on the 4th September 1595 and the building was completed in 1602. At the instigation of the Neapolitan Government, Grandmaster Pinto on the 29th April 1768 expelled the Society of Jesus from Malta. Despite protests lodged by the Bishop, the Inquisitor and the Cathedral Chapter, the Grandmaster appropriated all the revenue accruing from the property of the Society in Malta with the aim of setting up a "Pubblica Universita` di Studi Generali". After confidential negotiations with the Holy See, a papal brief Sedula Romani Pontific dated 20th October 1769 issued by Pope Clement XIV authorised the setting up the institution "with the privileges, prerogatives, pre-eminences, favours and honours granted to other public Universities". The decree constituting the University was signed by Grandmaster Pinto on the 22nd November 1769. The institution comprised two sections: a "Collegium" aimed at elementary and secondary education, and a "Universitas" to confer the degrees of Magister Philosophiae and Doctor Divinus. Later additions included the Faculties of Jurisprudence and Medicine. The Collegio Medico was set up on the 25 May 1771.

Evans Anatomy Laboratories
The 1947 University reforms led to an eventual clash of interest between the University and the Government. This clash led to the setting up of a Commission in 1957 under the chairmanship of Lord Hector Hetherington to assess the situation and propose remedies. The Commissioners expressed their doubt about the suitability of the old University building in Valletta, even considering the newly built Evans Laboratories close-by that were scheduled to house the science and anatomical laboratories. These views were echoed by John Cronin who was appointed in 1956 to report on the medical services of Malta. He further added that "The accommodation available for medical students seemed to me quite insufficient. I consider, therefore, that the building of a Medical School of adequate size, equipment and teaching staff is a necessity; which requires early attention, if doctors qualifying in Malta are to receive suitable training…….It is my view that in conformity with the well-tried practice of British medical schools, all students studying clinical subjects should be appointed as clinical clerks or surgical dressers to individual members of  the Visiting Staff of St. Luke's Hospital for convenient periods…….. The duties of these students would be to examine, keep notes, do dressings, perform simple treatment under supervision, and attend operation on the patients allotted to them. ….. These appointments would of course be unpaid".

The recommendations of the Hetherington Report were gradually adopted. The Anatomy Dissection rooms were transferred from the totally inadequate Argotti Garden Laboratory to a more modern set-up with cadaver refrigeration facilities in the ground floor level at Evans Laboratories [see pictures]. The University Science Laboratories were also transferred to the new building. These facilities were long overdue. The medical student journal in an 1952 editorial commented that "The new laboratories, so long promised, are now, we are glad to say making their appearance very close to the main University building in Valletta. They have been sorely missed and several generations of medical students have had to make do with temporary facilities during their pre-clinical days. Soon, it is hoped, the pre-clinical years will be more adequately and more comfortably catered for than before".

Gwardamangia Medical School and Tal-Qroqq University
Further funds allowed the building of a dedicated Medical School at Pieta-Gwardamangia, within the grounds of St. Luke's Hospital. The building of the Medical School was completed in 1963 and was in use during the academic year 1963-64. Clinical studies could thus be transferred to the new facilities. Pre-clinical studies and the Faculty of Science remained at Evans Laboratories. In 1964 also, the Foundation Stone of a new University building [see picture] was laid down at Msida by the Hon. Mr. Duncan Sandys, Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations during the Independence Celebrations. By October 1967, the first stage of the project was completed and science facilities were ready to be occupied. These included the Physics & Mathematics Block, the Chemistry and Pharmacy Building, and the Biological Science Building housing Biology, Physiology & Biochemistry, Anatomy and Dental Surgery. The facilities in Evans Laboratories, together with those in the Valletta University buildings were utilised to set up the University VIth Form - named Junior College. This ran the preparatory courses in Arts and Sciences leading to the Advanced level General Certificate of Education Examinations that were made a requirement for University entry. The Junior College was eventually amalgamated with other VIth Forms and placed under the direction of the Department of Education in 1973.