The strange end of Andreas Vesalius, the founder of modern Anatomy

Andreas Vesalius (December 31, 1514 - October 15, 1564) was an anatomist and physician, and author of one of the most influential books on human anatomy, “On the Workings of the Human Body”. Vesalius is often referred to as the founder of modern human anatomy.

Vesalius carried out dissection as the primary teaching tool, handling the actual work himself while his students clustered around the table. Hands-on direct observation was considered the only reliable resource, a huge break with medieval practice. In 1543, Vesalius conducted a public dissection of the body of Jakob Karrer von Gebweiler, a notorious felon from the city of Basel, Switzerland. With the cooperation of the surgeon Franz Jeckelmann, he assembled the bones and finally donated the skeleton to the University of Basel.

In 1564 Vesalius went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He sailed with the Venetian fleet under James Malatesta via Cyprus. When he reached Jerusalem, he received a message from the Venetian senate requesting him again to accept the Paduan professorship, which had become vacant by the death of his friend and pupil Fallopius.

After struggling for many days with the adverse winds in the Ionian Sea, he was wrecked on the island of Zakynthos. Here he soon died in such debt that, if a benefactor had not paid for a funeral, his remains would have been thrown to the animals. At the time of his death he was scarcely fifty years of age.

For many years it was assumed that Vesalius's pilgrimage was due to pressures of the Inquisition. Today this is generally considered to be without foundation and is dismissed by modern biographers. It appears the story was spread by Hubert Languet and he claimed in 1565 that Vesalius was performing an autopsy on an aristocrat in Spain when it was found that the heart was still beating, leading to the Inquisition condemning him to death. The story went on to claim that Philip II had the sentence transformed into a pilgrimage.

Vesalius's 'De fabrica' contained many intricately detailed drawings of human dissections, often in allegorical poses
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