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A Moment in History 
Adrian Van Der Spigelius
Adrian Van Der Spigelius
(1578 - 1625) 

Sometimes knows as Adrianus Spigelius Bruxellensis, he was a Flemish surgeon, anatomist, and botanist born in Brussels. Just as Vesalius, he studied at the University of Louvain, and later in Padua, Italy. Having settled as a professor of anatomy in Venice, in 1616 he was offered and accepted the Chair of Anatomy at Padua. His posthumous work "De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libri X" was published in 1627.

Spigelius described the caudate lobe of the liver and the "linea semilunaris", the lateral border of the rectus abdominis muscle. Today, a ventral hernia that occurs in the linea semilunaris is said to be an "Spigelian hernia".

If you hover over Spigelius' image, you will see an anatomical drawing depicting the linea semilunaris (arrow).

Original image courtesy of: nlm.nih.gov. Hover image property of: CAA.Inc.Artist: D.M. Klein 

 "Clinical Anatomy Associates, Inc., and the contributors of "Medical Terminology Daily" wish to thank all individuals who donate their bodies and tissues for the advancement of education and research”.

Click here for more information

Rare & Collectible Books at AbeBooks.com

Marcia Crocker Noyes (1869 - 1946)

The following article is taken and modified from the Wikipedia article on Marcia Crocker Noyes. The article itself is well-written with interesting images of the subject. I would encourage you to visit it.

Further to my comment on old books and research that started with an interesting bookplate (Ex-Libris). I continued my research and found that the person in charge of the Osler library bookplate was a fascinating individual that today maybe a ghost in the MedChi library and building in Baltimore...

Marcia Crocker Noyes was the librarian at The Maryland State Medical Society from 1896 to 1946 and was a founding member of the Medical Library Association.[1][2][3]

Sir William Osler, MD. a famous Johns Hopkins surgeon was a noted bibliophile and had a large personal collection of books on various topics. When he became the President of MedChi in 1896, he was dismayed at the condition of the library and knew that with the right person and some stewardship, it could become a significant collection. Sir William asked his friend, Dr. Bernard Steiner, a physician and President of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore for suggestions of a librarian, and Dr. Steiner recommended Marcia Crocker Noyes. A native of New York, and a graduate of Hunter College, Marcia had moved to Baltimore for a lengthy visit with her sister, and took a “temporary” position at the Pratt Library, which turned into three years. Although she had no medical experience or background, she was enthusiastic, and most importantly, she was willing to move into the apartment provided for the librarian, who needed to be available 24 hours a day.

The image in this article is Ms. Noyes on her first year on the job. Marcia developed a book classification system for medical books, based on the Index Medicus, and called it the Classification for Medical Literature. The system uses the alphabet with capital letters for the major divisions of medicine and lower-case ones for the sub-sections. The system was used for many years, but it's now dated and the Faculty's original shelving scheme was never changed. The card catalogues still reflect her classification and many of the cards are written in Marcia's back-slanting handwriting.

Marcia Crocker Noyes
Marcia Crocker Noyes
Click on the image for a larger depiction

Marcia knew enough to ask the Faculty's members about medical questions, terminology and literature. She gradually won over the predominantly male membership and they became her greatest allies; Sir William at the start, and then for nearly 40 years, Dr. John Ruhräh, a wealthy pediatrician with no immediate family of his own. She made a point of attending almost every Faculty function, and in 1904, under guidelines from the American Medical Association, Marcia was made the Faculty Secretary. For much of her first 10 years, she was the Faculty's only full-time employee, only being assisted by Mr. Caution, the Faculty's janitor. Later in life Marcia would say that she hired him because of his name!

Within ten years, the library had outgrown its space, and plans, spearheaded by Marcia and Sir William before his move to Oxford, were made to build a headquarters building, mainly to house the library's growing collection of medical books and journals.

Marcia was instrumental in the design and building of the new headquarters. She travelled to Philadelphia, New York and Boston to look at their medical society buildings, and eventually, the Philadelphia architectural firm, Ellicott & Emmart was selected to design and build the new Faculty building. Every detail of the building held her imprimatur, from the graceful staircase, to the light-filled reading room, and all of the myriad details of the millwork, marble tesserae, and most of all, the four-story cast iron stacks. She was on-site, climbing up unfinished staircases, checking out the progress of the building, which was built in less than one year at a cost of $90,000.

Among the features of the new building was a fourth-floor apartment for her. She referred to it as the "first penthouse in Baltimore" and it had a garden and rooftop terrace. The library collection eventually grew to more than 65,000 volumes from medical and specialty societies around the world. Journals were traded back and forth, and physicians eagerly anticipated the arrival of each new issue. At the same time, Marcia was involved in the Medical Library Association as one of eight founding members. The MLA promotes medical libraries and the exchange of information. One of the earliest mandates of the MLA was the Exchange, a distribution and trade service for those who had duplicates or little-used books in their collections. Initially, the Exchange was run out of the Philadelphia medical society, but in 1900 it was moved to Baltimore and Marcia oversaw it. Several hundred periodicals and journals were received and sent each month, a huge amount of work for a tiny staff. In 1904, the Faculty had run out of room to manage the Exchange, so it was moved to the Medical Society of the Kings County (Brooklyn). But without Marcia's excellent administrative skills, it floundered and in 1908, the MLA asked Marcia to take charge once again.

In 1909, when the new Faculty building opened, there was enough room to run the Exchange and with the help of MLA Treasurer, noted bibliophile and close friend, Dr. John Ruhräh, it once again became successful. Additionally, Marcia and Dr. Ruhräh combined forces to revive the MLA's bulletin, which had all but ceased publication in 1908, taking the Exchange with it. This duo maintained editorial control from 1911 until 1926. In 1934, around the time of Dr. Ruhräh's death, Marcia became the first “unmedicated” professional to head the MLA. During her tenure, the MLA incorporated, the first seal was adopted, and the annual meeting was held in Baltimore. Marcia wanted to write the history of the MLA once she retired from full-time work at the Faculty, but her health was beginning to fail. She had back problems and had suffered a serious burn on her shoulder as a young woman, possibly from her time running a summer camp, Camp Seyon, for young ladies in the Adirondack Mountains. In 1946, a celebration was planned to honor Marcia's 50 years at the Faculty. But she was adamant that the physicians wait until November, the actual date of her 50 years. However, they knew she was gravely ill, and might not make it until then, so a huge party was held in April. More than 250 physicians attended the celebration, but the ones she was closest to in the early years, were long gone. She was presented with a suitcase, a sum of money to use for travelling, and her favorite painting of Dr. John Philip Smith, a founder of the Medical College in Winchester, Virginia. It was painted by Edward Caledon Smith, a Virginia painter who had been a student of the painter Thomas Sully.[4] She adored this painting and vowed, jokingly, to take it with her wherever she went.

The painting was not to stay with her for very long, for she died in November 1946, and left it to the Faculty in her will. Her funeral was held in the Faculty's Osler Hall, named for her dear friend. More than 60 physicians served as her pallbearers, and she was buried at Baltimore's Green Mount Cemetery. In 1948, the MLA decided to establish an award in the name of Marcia Crocker Noyes. It was for outstanding achievement in medical library field and was to be awarded every two years, or when a truly worthy candidate was submitted. In 2014, the Faculty began giving a bouquet of flowers to the winner of the award in Marcia's name, and in honor of her work. Much evidence exists for this tradition, as we know that the physicians, especially Drs. Osler and Ruhräh, frequently gave her bouquets of flowers. Marcia also cultivated flower gardens at the Faculty and decorated the rooms with her work.

Today, the MedChi building is open for tours and if the rumors are to be believed Ms. Marcia Crocker Noyes is still at work in her beloved library as the "resident ghost" [1][5]

1. "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia" MedChi Archives blog.  
2. "Marcia C. Noyes, Medical Librarian" (PDF). Bulletin of the Medical Library Association. 35 (1): 108–109. 1947. PMC 194645
3. Smith, Bernie Todd (1974). "Marcia Crocker Noyes, Medical Librarian: The Shaping of a Career" (PDF). Bulletin of the Medical Library Association. 62 (3): 314–324. PMC 198800Freely accessible. PMID 4619344.
4. Edward Caledon BRUCE (1825-1901)"
5. Behind the scenes tour MedChiBuilding

Interesting discovery in an Ex-Libris

For centuries, book owners and collectors have used bookplates to identify their books and their collections, a tradition that seems to be falling in disuse. Not me, I have one that you can see here.

Bookplates (also known as Ex-Libris) can be a tantalizing study, and finding an interesting one is part of what makes an old book a journey of discovery. Every detail in an old book is important. Who owned it? What is their story? Did they leave personal notes within the pages of the books? I have found prescriptions, personal notes, medical shopping lists, and in some cases corrections to the book itself! One of the most interesting cases of this is Vesalius' Annotated Fabrica!

Bookplates are personal. In many cases, they depict the coat of arms of the owner’s family, sometimes a motto that drove the book’s owner, and in some cases a humorous jab at something. They are very personal.

While researching my series of articles on Dr. Ephraim McDowell, I ordered the book “EPHRAIM MCDOWELL, FATHER OF OVARIOTOMY AND FOUNDER OF ABDOMINAL SURGERY. With an Appendix on JANE TODD CRAWFORD”. By AUGUST SCHACHNER, M.D. Cloth, 8vo.A p. 33I. Philadelphia, J. B. Lippincott CO., I921. A great book, I finished reading it overnight!

What interested me was the bookplate on the book frontis, a picture of which I placed in this article. It is from the Library of the Medical and Chirurgical faculty of the State of Maryland, and has a legend that states "Purchased through the William Osler Testimonial fund for the advancement of Medicine”. It depicts a physician (probably Hippocrates) taking the pulse of a patient.

Osler MedChi Ex-Libris
Osler MedChi Ex-Libris
Click on the image for a larger depiction

Further research indicated that this bookplate was created to honor Sir William Osler by the Maryland State Medical Society and that Dr. Osler’s books never had personal bookplates. MedChi (Maryland State Medical Society) commissioned this plate that depicts the four seals of the universities with which Osler was affiliated: McGill in Montreal, University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and Oxford in England. The images are flanked by two rods of Asclepius.This Ex-Libris was designed and drawn by Max Brödel (1870 – 1941) a famous medical illustrator who worked at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore and illustrated for Harvey Cushing, William Halsted, Howard Kelly, and other notable clinicians. Brödel was a personal friend of Osler. The bookplate was such a hit that doctors from all over the country requested copies of it, which the librarian at the time Ms. Marcia Crocker Noyes,  sent but with the request of receiving the requestor’s own bookplate. You can see all of them in the attached linksin the "Sources" section.

An old book is important not only because of its content, but also because of its provenance. You know where you are going to start reading it, but you never know where are you going to end in researching it. Dr. Miranda.

1. Ex Libris: The Bookplate Collection, Part I MedChi
2. Happy Birthday, Sir William! MedChi
3. The bookplate that never was McGill University
4. The Osler Library of the History of Medicine: McGill's Medical Memory. Lyons C Mcgill J Med. 2011 Jun; 13(1): 90.
5. The MedChi Collection of Bookplates
6. Max Brödel & MedChi

The unknown patient / donor

When writing the article “The Ephraim McDowell House and Museum” I realized that there are so many patients that by volunteering to a novel or sometimes experimental procedure or donating their bodies have been the catalyst of the advancement of medical science, surgery, and anatomy. Benigno explains it so clearly in his paper explaining the physician/patient relation of McDowell and his patient: “Because of his innovative genius and finally honed surgical skills, Ephraim McDowell gave Jane Todd Crawford her life, and she, in return, gave him immortality”.

Few patients have influenced local history more than Jane Todd Crawford. In Kentucky there is a road named after her, a hospital bears her name in Greenville, KY, and there is even a formal "Jane Todd Crawford Day" on December 13!

By contrast, there are so many unknown patients whose names history has forgotten, and yet the fame of the physician continues through time in eponymic hospitals, educational institutions, named surgical procedures or maneuvers, surgical instruments, etc.

Some of the names and stories have survived, but many have not. In some cases, we know the name, but little else.

Dr. Henry Heimlich used his “Heimlich maneuver” for the first time to save his neighbor Patty Ris, in 2016, forty-two years after publishing it in 1974. The maneuver itself was used that same year (1974) to save the first person, Irene Bogachus, who was choking at a restaurant. Hundreds of thousands of people have been saved from death from choking by the proper use of this maneuver.

Jane Todd Crawford - Daguerrotype
Jane Todd Crawford - Daguerrotype
Click on the image for a larger depiction

Dr. Christiaan Barnard, performed the first successful heart transplant on December 3, 1967. We know the name of the donor, 25 year-old Denise Darvall, and the recipient Lewis Washkansky.

Dr. Antoine Dubois and Dr. Dominique-Jean Larrey in France performed the first mastectomy on September 30, 1811. This was decades before the advent of anesthesia or aseptic technique. The patients was Fanny Burney, a famous novelist.

Dr. Edward Jenner developed the smallpox vaccine after working with a milkmaid, Sarah Nelmes. Jenner’s work saved the Americas from the smallpox epidemic through the work of Don Antonio de Gimbernat y Arbós and Don Francisco Javier de Balmis i Berenguer and his “Balmis Expedition

The examples can continue, but who was the patient on the first Billroth procedure, who was the patient in the first Scopinaro procedure? Who was the patient on whom Dr. Eric Muhe performed the first laparoscopic cholecystectomy? Many are unknown yet they helped pave the way of the future.

The same can be said for the world of human anatomy. Today we honor the donors who will their bodies so that future physicians can study the intricacy of the human body, but we never know their names or their stories. Many a time I have stood at the side of a body while medical students dissect and study and wondered about their identities, the life they had, and what led them to give us their bodies as a wonderful gift to science and medicine.

There was a time (long ago) when the dissection of a human body was punished by the Church, or the times when the scarcity of bodies was such that some started to rob graves, or when the punishment for a crime was “death and a public anatomy”.

Some of these people we know, most of them we do not. Some have given their body willingly, others have not.

Joseph Paul Jernigan, a murderer, who after given the death penalty, donated his body to a now world-renown endeavor, the Visible Human Project.

The oldest known anatomical preparation is a skeleton mounted in Basel (Belgium) by Andreas Vesalius in 1543. The skeleton belongs to Jacob Karrer von Geweiler, a bigamist and attempted murderer who was beheaded for his crimes.

It is sad that we know the names of these criminals, and in some cases not that of their victims.

We do not know the names of many who, during the Nazi regime in WWII, were taken from concentration camps for medical experiments and as we understand, possibly murdered and dissected to illustrate now infamous anatomical atlases. Research is being done to discover their identities.

Times have changed and body donation has become accepted and praised by society. I am always touched by the words of Morgagni above the entrance to the dissection rooms at the University of Cincinnati: “hic locus est ubi mors gaudet succurrere vitae” meaning “in this place death rejoices helping the living”.

I cannot but end this article with the words that are found in the left side column of this blog and will always be there:

“Clinical Anatomy Associates, Inc., and the contributors of "Medical Terminology Daily" wish to thank all individuals who donate their bodies and tissues for the advancement of education and research”.

The Ephraim McDowell House and Museum (4)

This is the continuation of the article “The Ephraim McDowell House and Museum (3)”. For the original article click here.

The rest of the house is interesting. The kitchen is an open hearth typical of the times and beneath the operating room. Candle molds, butter churners, baking tables, iron cooking utensils, etc. The guide explained that most of the cooking work was done by slaves.

To the back of the house if a large garden. Part of it is shaped as a maltese cross, and this is where Dr. McDowell cultivated medicinal plants and herbs for his practice and the apothecary, The garden has several monuments, one of which is the original slab that covered Dr. McDowell's tomb.

The apothecary

This "pharmacy" of the times is incredibly well-preserved, maintained and furnished. It is said that Dr. McDowell worked so much at this place that he eventually moved to the country to a second house he named "Cambiskenneth" after a famous local native american chief.

The apothecary has a basement that is off-limits to visitors, but there are photographs of the location for visitors to see.

Some of the porcelain and glass containers still have some of their contents.

Additional historic buildings

Just across from the McDowell House and Museum is the Constitution Square, a site that I would encourage you to visit. Following is an excerpt of the Danville KY website on the Constitution Square Historic Site:

"This is the birthplace of Kentucky's statehood. In 1776, Kentucky was still part of the frontier and a county of Virginia. The Wilderness Road, blazed by Daniel Boone, led pioneers through the Cumberland Gap and into Central Kentucky. Danville's prominent location on the Wilderness Road caused it to become a crossroad for early settlers, and a center of political activity.

By 1785, Danville was chosen as Kentucky's first seat of government, and a meetinghouse, courthouse and jail were built to administer the growing territory. Still bound to Virginia laws, though, several Danville citizens formed the political club that recognized the need for a convention to discuss statehood. Between 1784-1792, ten constitutional conventions took place at the courthouse of Constitution Square. In 1790, Kentucky delegates accepted Virginia's terms for separation from the state. On June 1, 1792, Kentucky became the fifteenth state in the union, and Isaac Shelby, a Revolutionary War hero, was named the first Governor of the Commonwealth."

Several original buildings and replicas are found at this site.

In closing this series of articles I can only say that this was an interesting personal and learning experience. Being able to visit The Ephraim McDowell House and Museum allowed me to envision the life of this time. To place it in perspective the year that Dr. McDowell operated on Mrs. Crawford was 1809. On the same year Abraham Lincoln was born  (only 35 miles from the farm of Mrs. Crawford), James Madison was the 4th president of the United States of America (which had only 15 states and 6 territories), Napoleon occupied Vienna, and Ludwig van Beethoven had just finished writing his Fifth Symphony.

The kitchen
The kitchen
The back of the house
The back of the house
The apothecary
The apothecary
The apothecary
The apothecary

Following is a large image of the original house prior to its renovation. The image is from a biographical book by Dr. McDowell's granddaughter Mary Young Ridenbaugh.

The old McDowell residence
Click on the image for a larger depiction 

1. “Ephraim McDowell and Jane Todd Crawford, the Bicentennial of a Surgical Masterpiece” Benigno, BB Obst & Gynecol (2009) 113. 5:1141-1144
2. “The Biography of Ephraim McDowell, M.D.; The Father of Ovariotomy” Ridenbaugh, MY, 1890 CL Webster & Co.
3. “Ephraim McDowell: "Father of ovariotomy" and founder of abdominal surgery, with an appendix on Jane Todd Crawford” Schachner, A 1921, J.B. Lippincott Co. (Interesting discovery in an Ex-Libris in this book)

The Ephraim McDowell House and Museum (3)

This is the continuation of the article “The Ephraim McDowell House and Museum (2)”. For the original article click here.

The “Operating Room”

The so-called “operating room” is the place where everybody thinks a historical surgical event took place. The room is at a different level and communicates with the master bedroom. There is a plaque placed there byt Chapter XI of the Colonial Dames of America. In the room there is antique furniture and surgical instruments of the time.These are most probably not Dr. McDowell’s instruments, but I would like to believe so.

In the instrument kits you can clearly see different types of knives, lancets, needles, trephines, tourniquets, and amputation saws. What is interesting is that at the time (1809) there were no concepts of asepsia or anesthesia. So why did this historical operation did not get infected? Dr. McDowell’s habits and the location of the room may provide an answer. It is said that Dr. McDowell was very strict about bodily and environmental cleanliness (clothes and such). The location of the operating room is directly above the kitchen and has a separate set of stairs that leads directly to it. In the 1800's white linen was boiled.

In my opinion, this room was not only the “operating room” but also the “convalescent room” for people that were operated by Dr. McDowell. A room that served as pre and postoperatory, as well as an operating room.

In the room there are also additional artifacts, one of which definitely caught my attention: A doctor’s saddle bag. Since all transportation was by horse or buggy, a young doctor needed a special saddle bag that contained surgical instruments, medicine, and all that was needed for a home visit. This reminds me of a book I strongly recommend: “The horse and buggy doctor” by Arthur E. Hertzler, MD who was born almost 40 years after Dr. McDowell died.

The operation

Dr. McDowell visited Jane Todd Crawford in early December 1809 at her home 60 miles away. The reason was that two doctors wanted him to help in the birthing, as they thought the patient was pregnant and in pain. After examination Dr. McDowell explained to the patient that she had an (at the time) inoperable ovarian tumor and the she had a fatal prognosis. He also explained that he would be willing to try a risky and experimental surgery, but only at his home in Danville, KY. Mrs. Crawford agreed, as this was the only opportunity to save her life.

Mrs. Crawford, traveled very slowly for several days on horseback, crossing several rivers in the process. When she arrived she was tired and in a delicate condition, so she stayed several days before Dr. McDowell attempted the operation.

The operation itself has been described countless times. On Sunday December 25th, 1809 the patient was placed on a table in the “operating room”. Dr. James McDowell, a nephew assisted in the operation. Dr. James McDowell repeatedly asked his uncle to desist in the attempt that he was convinced was going to fail.

The patient was given some opioids (not anesthesia), her face was covered with a light piece of cloth and while she recited psalms and sang hymns Dr. Ephraim McDowell cut a 9-inch left paramedian incision opening her abdomen. The tumor was so big that it had to be cut open initially to partially drain a “dirty, mucous content”. After a single ligature through the broad ligament and infundibulopelvic ligament, the tumor was removed. It weighed 22 and a half pounds (10.2 kgs)!  The incision was closed with an interrupted suture.

Five days after the operation, when Dr, McDowell came from the master bedroom to the now “postoperative” guest room he was surprised to see Mrs. Crawford on her feet making her bed! In Dr. McDowell’s own recounting of the procedure, the patient stayed with the McDowell family for 25 days after which she then again horseback rode 60 miles back to her home, in the middle of winter. Apparently these two protagonists never met again and Mrs. Crawford survived Dr. McDowell for at least 13 years.

The operating room
The operating room
Surgical kit
Surgical kit
Surgical kit
Surgical kit
Doctor's saddlebag
Doctor's saddlebag
Plaque on the operating room
Plaque on the operating room

Dr. McDowell was a very religious man and the night before the operation he wrote a prayer that he kept in his pocket during the operation. Following is the text of the operation. If you visit a store across the street from the McDowell House and Museum you can buy a facsimile of the prayer.

The Prayer

"Almighty God be with me I humbly beseech Thee, in this attendance in Thy holy hour; give me becoming awe of Thy presence, grant me Thy direction and aid, I beseech Thee, that in confessing I may be humble and truly penitent in prayer, serious and devout in praises, grateful and sincere, and in hearing Thy word attentive, and willing and desirous to be instructed. Direct me, oh! God, in performing this operation, for I am but an instrument in Thy hands, and am but Thy servant, and if it is Thy will, oh! spare this poor afflicted woman. Oh! give me true faith in the atonement of Thy Son, Jesus Christ, or a love sufficient to procure Thy favor and blessing; that worshipping Thee in spirit and in truth my services may be accepted through his all-sufficient merit. Amen."

Dr. McDowell only published the operation and its results in 1817. In several biographies that I have read it is stated that many were envious and jealous of his accomplishments to the point of creating tales that he “cut women open to murder them”. In her granddaughter’s biography or her illustrious grandfather she writes: “McDowell was conscious at the time he was doing the operation, that an angry and excited crowd of men were collected in the street awaiting the result of his experiment of "butchering a woman," as they expressed it. Had she died under the operation, there was no law in those primitive days sufficiently strong to have protected him from the people who were clamoring for his life—determined men who would have shown no mercy, for they regarded it a duty to avenge the wrong inflicted on Mrs. Crawford. Indeed his life hung on the recovery of the heroic woman.”

This article continues here.

1. “Ephraim McDowell and Jane Todd Crawford, the Bicentennial of a Surgical Masterpiece” Benigno, BB Obst & Gynecol (2009) 113. 5:1141-1144
2. “The Biography of Ephraim McDowell, M.D.; The Father of Ovariotomy” Ridenbaugh, MY, 1890 CL Webster & Co.
3. “Ephraim McDowell: "Father of ovariotomy" and founder of abdominal surgery, with an appendix on Jane Todd Crawford” Schachner, A 1921, J.B. Lippincott Co.

To put it in another way: where do we have to look for Vesalius's grave?

The following is an article published by Theo Dirix in his blog. He is one of the Vesalius Continuum project members and a contributor to this website. Theo Dirixis an author and a taphophile. He has successively held the office of Consul in Embassies of Belgium in Tanzania, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Canada, the United Arab Emirates and, since 2011, Greece. His current posting is in Kopenhagen, Denmark  Before 1989, he worked for the Flemish Radio 3 and commented on (mainly Moroccan) literature. He is constantly writing travel stories of his visits to cemeteries and graves. He is also the author of the book "In Search of Andreas Vesalius: The Quest for the Lost Grave".

Isn’t it amazing how much we know about a scientist and physician who lived five hundred years ago, I am referring, of course, to the prominent figure of Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564)? (2)

After a jump start in academia in Italy, the Flemish anatomist made a sudden career move and became the family physician of Charles V, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, and to his successor Philip II and their powerful entourage in Spain. His brilliant early work, De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libri Septem, a milestone in the transition to empiric research, which has a revolutionary pedagogical and artistic approach, still inspires.

Isn’t it even more amazing that new discoveries about this giant and his achievements steadily continue to surface?(3)  Most amazing, though, is that several hoaxes, mainly about his final months and days, doggedly survive.(4) Where is that undeniable proof that he ever ran into the otherwise so well documented inquisition?(5) Vesalius left Spain as a pious pilgrim. A laissez-passer [safe passage document]  by Philip II and letters from the Spanish Embassy in Venice are conserved in archives in Spain. Even the thanking note by the Custodian of the Holy Places in Jerusalem, which Vesalius was to hand over to Philip II, reached its destination.(6) That unequivocally refutes the other obstinate prank that a shipwreck during his return was the cause of his death.

Some now argue that scurvy may have been the cause; Omer Steeno, Maurits Biesbrouck and Theodoor Goddeeris point in the direction of general fatigue.(7) Obviously, only the discovery of his remains will help determine why he collapsed on the quay of Zakynthos, then a Venetian colony, as described in a recently rediscovered eyewitness report.(8) He was buried in the local catholic church of Santa Maria delle Grazie. Several Jerusalem pilgrims have indeed described his epitaph. Unfortunately, the church has disappeared. During its history, it was sacked, abandoned, damaged and finally, after major earthquake in 1953, bulldozed into the sea.


Theo Dirix

Original photograph of the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Zakynthos, Greece Original photograph of the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Zakynthos, Greece. Click on the image for a larger depiction

In view of the quincentenary of the anatomist, medical artist Pascale Pollier, hoping to reconstruct his face from his cranium, started a romantic quest for his remains. Under the impetus of the author and the Embassy of Belgium in Athens, archaeologists have been involved: Prof. Jan Driessen, Université Catholique de Louvain (UCL) and Director of the Belgian School in Athens, EBSA, and Apostolos Sarris, Deputy Director of the Institute for Mediterranean Studies - Foundation for Research and Technology, Hellas (IMS-FORTH).

In 2014, Dr. Sylviane Déderix (UCL/IMS-FORTH) checked the presumed location of the church through the spatial analysis of a Geographical Information System (GIS). With that digital tool, she displayed, corrected and analysed historical maps on modern cartographic data. The result confirms that the ruins of the Santa Maria delle Grazie and its annexes are to be found to the northwest of the intersection of Kolyva Street and Kolokotroni Street, partly below the asphalt and partly under private property of emergency lodgings, which date from the ’53 earthquake, and partly under a fairly new construction.

To enrich the GIS of the first phase, a geophysical approach of anomalies under the surface should now follow. In this urban environment only non-destructive methods like ground penetrating radar (GPR) and electrical resistivity tomography (ERT) can be carried out. With the necessary permissions and funding, a team of researchers could be deployed to collect and process such data. If these are conclusive, a third phase of small scale excavations in search of remains may follow. To top up personal investments, Vesalius Continuum(9) has launched a crowd funding campaign to sponsor the second phase. If you wish to contribute to finding the real cause of Vesalius’s death and help Pascalle Pollier reconstruct the face of a genius whose legacy survives to this very day, visit: www.gofundme.com/VesaliusContinuum

Personal note: Click on the following link to collaborate with this incredible quest. I already did. Dr. Miranda

Notes and Sources:
(1) The author thanks Maurits Biesbrouck, Sylviane Déderix, Jan Driessen, Theodoor Goddeeris, Akis Ladikos, Pavlos Plessas, Pascale Pollier, Apostolos Sarris, Maria Sidirokastriti - Kontoni and Omer Steeno.
(2) Maurits Biesbrouck upgraded Dr. Harvey Cushing’s list of publications on Vesalius to more than 3000 records: http://www.andreasvesalius.be , accessed 8 January 2017.
(3) In 2007 a Canadian book collector bought Vesalius’ own copy of the 1555 edition of the Fabrica, heavily annotated in preparation of a never published third edition. In 2014 Vesalius’ own annotated copy of Institutiones by his teacher, J.G. von Andernach, came to light.
(4) DIRIX, Theo: Andreas Vesalius and his hoaxes, con variazioni, in: Vesalius, Journal of the International Society of the History of Medicine, Vol. XXII, nr. 1, June 2016, Special Issue, Proceedings of A Tribute to Andreas Vesalius, Padua, Italy - December 2015, pp. 103 - 111.
(5) The source is post-mortem gossip spread in January 1565 by the French diplomat, Hubertus Languetus, in a note of 24 lines opening with: “rumour has it”. See: BIESBROUCK, Maurits, Theodoor GODDEERIS, Omer STEENO. ‘Post Mortem’ Andreae Vesalii (1514-1564), Deel I. De laatste reis van Andreas Vesalius en de omstandigheden van zijn dood), in: A.Vesalius, nr. 3 september 2015, Alfagen, Leuven, pp 154-161.
(6) In total four letters have been discovered by José Baron Fernandez in the archives of Simancas, described and published since 1965
(7) BIESBROUCK, Maurits, Theodoor GODDEERIS, Omer STEENO. ‘Post Mortem’ Andreae Vesalii (1514-1564), Deel II. Het graf van Andreas Vesalius op Zakynthos, (vervolg en slot na Deel I in vorig nummer), in: A.Vesalius, nr. 4 december 2015, Alfagen, Leuven, pp 193-200.
(8) ibid
(9) Within the initial ad hoc organising committee of the Vesalius Continuum Conference in September 2014 in Zakynthos, medical artist Pascale Pollier and the author, then Consul at the Embassy of Belgium in Athens, formed the Search team. See: DIRIX, Theo, In Search of Andreas Vesalius, The Quest for the Lost Grave, LannooCampus, Leuven, 2014.


GoFundMe Campaign for the next stage of the project