A RENAISSANCE BABY-HATCH
the zealous and reforming pope Innocent III decreed
the establishment of church-sponsored foundling homes or orphanages
designed to receive the unwanted newborn offspring of 'fallen'
(usually raped) and impoverished women anonymously, and offer
some hope of their survival. In the simplest cases, abandoned
babies (trovatelli or foundlings) were often left 'exposed'
on the steps of a church, presbytery, or convent, so they could
easily be found and delivered to the Church's maybe not-so-tender
care. Infant exposure has ben widely practised for millennia,
often in special places, - for example, on a flat-topped rock
outside a town, or under a special tree or bush..
late mediæval times unwanted babies were thrown in rivers
(notably the Tiber) or secreted in rubbish-heaps, or sold to childless
couples, or more often sold as future servant labour or prostitutes,
as (some centuries later) unwanted children were sold or delivered
to Canada, the USA and Australia.
or little platforms were provided, but different methods evolved
to safeguard both the health of the newborn baby and to make the
deposit quick and efficient. These "drop-off points"
included the 'foundling wheel' (torna-ruota, or ruota
degli esposti in Italian) set in a baby-hatch.
could be a horizontal wooden and hollow cylinder with a small
door on one side, installed so that half remained inside the building
and half outside on the road, on the same principle of the revolving
plates for depositing and receiving money etc. in banks, etc.
A woman (usually a nun or novice) on the inside, alerted by a
baby's cries or the ringing of a bell, would turn the wheel, thus
bringing the baby inside while the mother - or other person if,
for example, the mother had died from complications of childbirth
- could slip or stumble away without being seen.
Toma, 'La guardia alla ruota dei trovatelli', or 'The Watcher
at the Baby-hatch', 1877.
Toma himself (known as ''The
Painter in Greys') was dumped at an orphanage when he was ten
The child became the property of the orphanage
or foundlings' hospital. From then on their lives were 'in the
service of God' - i.e. the Church - and we now know how grim that
might have been, especially for girls.
This rare and rustic example at Caylus, dating from the late 15th
century, and situated directly behind the 13th century church,
has a possibly-symbolic vulvular mandorla shape...symbolising
more basic - even severe - example at Montedoro, Sicily.
Ruota degli Esposti at the Ospedale della Santissima Annunziata
photos by Edoardo Caporusso
Ruota of the Orphanage (Spedale degli Innocenti), Florence,
photograph by courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
scroll above the hatch, held by happy foundlings, has a reference
26 and the date:
the constitutional, universal right to abortion has been abolished
in the USA, the practice of infant deposit has resumed there.
Haven laws allow a mother to give up her new-born baby for
adoption, at a designated site, anonymously and without risk of
prosecution. Safe Haven legislation first appeared in the US in
1999 in Texas, in response to a rise in the number of abandoned
babies. Now it exists in every state. These laws were never intended
as an alternative to abortion. But as the options for unhappily
pregnant women diminish, some are anticipating an increase in
the number of babies left by desperate mothers in hospitals and
specially designed Baby Boxes at local fire stations.
pour recueillir les enfants abandonnés, Caylus.
1198 le pape Innocent III déclare que les orphelinats doivent
installer des "ruote per i trovatelli" (boîtes
à bébé ou tours dabandon) où
les femmes peuvent laisser les enfants dans lanonymat tout
en améliorant les chances de survie des enfants.
premières boîtes à bébé sont
nées et se répandent dans toute lEurope. Cette
pratique consiste à déposer le bébé
sur un dispositif placé sur la façade de lhospice
et fonctionne comme un guichet tournant. Lenfant est recueilli
de lautre côté par les responsables de lhospice
qui lhébergent et le nourrissent.
des XVe ou XVIe siècles, cette petite niche ovale, bien
ouvragée et que le temps a quelque peu malmené,
était destinée à recueillir les nouveaux-nés
que leur mère abandonnait. En ces temps là, l'église
récupérait ces enfants qui étaient destinés,
dans la plupart des cas, à vivre dans un monastère
et servir l'église leur vie durant.
type d'ouvrage est connu également en façade de
l'ancien Hôtel-Dieu, l'église Saint-Nicolas
de Troyes en Champagne. La forme de l'ouverture n'est pas
sans rappeler celle par lequel est sorti le petit être peu
de temps auparavant, symbolisant ainsi une nouvelle naissance.
photographed November, 2020.
The house was for
a time the residence of the sculptor Yosip Zadkine, one of whose
is a huge Risen
Christ carved from a local tree-trunk, which
is in the church opposite.
more of my pictures of Caylus see here.
The Romanesque remains of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val, 12 km away,
are discussed on one
of my other websites.