Fra Giuseppe


Fra Giuseppe Zammit (1650 – 1740)

Fra Giuseppe was born in Valletta. He received his secondary education at the Jesuits’ College where probably he later began his studies for the priesthood. Soon afterwards he proceeded abroad to take up medicine as well.

He was ordained priest at the age of 23 and 4 years later was accepted in the Order of St John as Cappellano di Obbedienza.

In December 1675 the plague struck and killed some 10,000 people (one sixth of the population) in six months. The following year Grand Master Nicolas Cotoner instituted the School for Anatomy and Surgery at the Order’s Sacra Infermeria which was reputed to be one of the finest hospitals in Europe.

Fra Giuseppe was the first person to be appointed to the chair of Anatomy and Surgery.

He also taught botany and chemistry to students of medicine and pharmacy and set up Malta’s first medicinal herbal garden in the ditch of Fort St Elmo.

In line with developments in Europe, in 1679 he also founded Malta’s first Medical Academy.

To the Sacra Infermeria he bequeathed some 15,000 books on medicine, surgery and other sciences. This was the first medical library to be established on the Island.

He was personal physician to five of the Grand Masters of his time (Cotoner, Carafa, Perellos, Zondadari and De Vilhena) who held him in high professional esteem and bestowed upon him various honours.

In fact, dignitaries of the Church and of the Order addressed him as “Conte” or “Commendatore“.

In 1722 he was raised to the highest rank in the medical profession, that of Protomedico, Physician-in-Chief of the Maltese Islands. He was then 72 and later in the year he asked to be allowed to retire on a pension, which was granted.

Fra Giuseppe was also a refined Latinist and the inscriptions etched in the walls of this house are but two of the many he composed in that language. Among these are the short biographies (Elogia) painted on each of the 139 portraits of eminent Maltese he bequeathed to the Jesuits’ College. Some of these still hang in the corridors of the Old University. Of the rest there is no trace.

Like all erudite Maltese of his times he also had a perfect command of the Italian language; witness his hundreds Pasquino sonnets. The sense of humour and tone of pleasant banter of these poems throw an unsuspected light on his character which, judging from his portrait, one might be forgiven to have considered quite cheerless.

Fra Giuseppe died at the age of 90 and is buried in the Hal Balzan parish church. The marble slab which originally covered his grave is now affixed to the wall in the choir.

Fra Giuseppe had this house built next to the parish church in 1714. The village was then a favourite place with city dwellers who sought a country house in a quiet and cool corner away from the hustle and bustle of city life. In this sheltered corner the good reverend doctor spent, at least, the hours of leisure of the last 25 years of his life.

The Latin inscriptions you see here were discovered only in the 1980 in the process of a redecoration of the house. The Director of National Museums himself supervised the works.

The inscription inside reads:

Quod ego serius sero sero alius sero Joseph Zammit A et medicine doctor Annorum 68 P P Anno domini 1717

(To the glory of God, the Good and Almighty. What late in life I acquired, I now, late in life, leave to others. Joseph Zammit Doctor of Arts and Medicine had this stone laid at the age of 68 in the year of the Lord 1717.)

Unique character .. to the last drop

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