The Royal Hospital of San Rafael

By Luis Felipe Rodriguez

The Royal Hospital of San Rafael was inaugurated on October 24, 1770. During the first half of the 18th century, the residents of San Miguel el Grande (today San Miguel de Allende) began to build a hospital that would provide services to the poor. They approached the parish priest, who then turned to the Bishop of Michoacán, because San Miguel el Grande came under his jurisdiction. They pushed the idea because they could see how useful a hospital would be for the community. The Bishop agreed, and sought authorization from the Viceroy Juan de Acuña, Marquis of Casa Fuerte (1722-1734), but the request wasn’t granted at that time. Neither was the request granted by the next viceroy, Pedro de Castro Figueroa y Salazar. There was a lawsuit between the parishes of San Miguel el Grande and Dolores, because of a dispute about church tithes. In 1742, when Viceroy Don Pedro Cebrián y Agustín, Count of Fuenclara (1742-1746) was presented with the request of the residents of San Miguel el Grande, he finally approved the work on October 16, 1743.

However, the work could not be carried out due to lack of funds, despite the fact that the Viceroy had ordered in 1744 that a large part of the tithes should be applied entirely to the construction of the San Miguel el Grande hospital, the funds were not sufficient. Everything was put on hold for 10 years, and the funds designated by the Viceroy were put aside and totaled 4,490 pesos. Don Francisco de Lara Villagómez had donated a piece of land that measured 110 yards along the front, from south to north, and 190 yards from east to west. Some neighbors had left bequests for the hospital in their wills, but with the condition that while it was being built they should be applied to suffrages for the souls in purgatory. In 1753, the Bishop of Michoacán reported all these possibilities to the Viceroy, and he ordered that it be built immediately. 

The building consisted of two parts: the hospital and the church. It measured 40 yards long and 10 wide, its walls were 12 yards high. It had a transept and vaults. The tower was of a single body and two bells were placed on it. Inside the church there was a main altar and two in the transept; there was also a pulpit and a large choir. Both the church and the sacristy were decorated with numerous oil paintings. The hospital was arranged around a central patio, with four corridors; three were completed and one was left halfway through. There were 27 rooms, some were men’s infirmaries, others were for women, the rest for convalescents and hospital offices, services, and servants’ quarters. Finally, there was also a fenced graveyard. It was under a Royal Patronage, and in all the documents it is given the title of Royal Hospital. San Rafael was chosen because the archangel is the patron of the sick. The name means “medicine of God.” The care of the sick was left in the hands of a doctor, a surgeon, male and female nurses, as well as servants who took care of food preparation and cleaning.

(To be continued)