Tuesday, June 24, 2008


In the Loggia del Bigallo near the cathedral in Florence, orphans were put up for adoption in the Middle Ages.

I have a special interest in orphans because my grandmother was orphaned at the age of 9, along with her sister, aged 3, and her brother, aged 6.

The Confraternity of the Bigallo cared for orphans as the charitable work that they confraternity did for the city. In the Middle Ages, and indeed until social services came into being as Dickensian-style state institutions, private groups, often religious, shouldered the charitable and philanthropic responsibilities in their communities.

There was also a hospital for children in Florence, Ospedale degli Innocenti, in Brunelleschi's Santissima Annunziata square. I like to think that the orphans enjoyed their life in such a lovely place.

My grandmother remembered her life with the nuns as strict but always fair. She was always well-treated, and she received a good education and training so that she could support herself in life. In fact, she kept in touch with some of the nuns until they passed away.

St. Gertrude's Academy, Rio Vista

from the David Rumsey map collection

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