Art of Medicine
Sep 2020

Arches of St John’s

Richard Wu
AMA J Ethics. 2020;22(9):E812-813. doi: 10.1001/amajethics.2020.812.


This photograph depicts a gateway at the Oud Sint-Janshospitaal, a medieval Flemish hospital. This hospital was open to the poor and sick, helping to make health care accessible to the surrounding community. Just as it was in the Middle Ages, health care access is a salient issue today.


Figure. Arches of St John’s



Digital photography.


Although gateways are not always the focal point of discussions on architecture, they do serve a significant architectural role as both entrances to and exits from a place. Since gateways are usually the first and last part of an architectural complex to be seen by visitors, their design can often help reveal the intended function of the structures or spaces enclosed within.

This photograph shows a gateway at the medieval Flemish hospital Oud Sint-Janshospitaal (Old St John’s Hospital), which was founded during the mid-12th century in Bruges, Belgium,1 and remained in use as a hospital until the 20th century.2 The gateway is built from brick and consists of a walled passageway with an arch at each end. One of these arches is a simple semicircular arch. The other, a segmental arch, is topped by a shingled structure with a small oculus, which calls to mind a more modest version of the rose windows found in cathedrals.3 Overall, the gateway’s relatively unimposing appearance and lack of lavish decoration are consistent with the hospital’s architectural focus on simplicity and function.4 Furthermore, the gateway’s rather humble and approachable appearance reflects the hospital’s mission of religious charity, or caritas4—to serve the sick and poor.5


  1. Musea Brugge. Sint-Janshospitaal (St John’s Hospital). Accessed January 28, 2020.

  2. Onroerend Erfgoed. Sint-Janshospitaal: bouwkundig element. Accessed May 9, 2020.

  3. Dow HJ. The rose window. J Warburg Courtauld Inst. 1957;20(3/4):248-297.
  4. Goegebuer S. The role of St John’s Hospital religious community in Bruges in the 16th and 17th-century history of care: how did the tangible 17th-century art collection commissioned by St John’s Hospital represent the intangible history of caring for people? In: Foresta P, Meloni F, eds. Arts, Portraits and Representation in the Reformation Era: Proceedings of the Fourth Reformation Research Consortium Conference. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht; 2019:89-108.

  5. Sotheby’s. Old Saint John’s Hospital: about the museum. Accessed January 28, 2020.


AMA J Ethics. 2020;22(9):E812-813.



Conflict of Interest Disclosure

The author(s) had no conflicts of interest to disclose.

The viewpoints expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the AMA.