A Twist of Fate

There are good people who are dealt a bad hand by fate, and bad people who live long, comfortable, privileged lives. A small twist of fate can save or end a life; random chance is a permanent, powerful player in each of our lives, and in human history as well.~Jeff Greenfield

Do you ever wonder what your life would be like if you had been born into a different family?  What if, by a twist of fate, your parents were poor and couldn’t afford to raise you?  Or worse, what if they had died when you were very young?

Come with me on a tour of one of the world’s oldest orphanages opened in 1445.  It is called Ospedale degli Innocenti (Hospital of the Innocents) in Florence.

Bruneschelli’s Portico. Oespedale degli Innocenti, Florence. Shot with a Fuji X-T2

We’ll walk up the front steps of the orphanage under the magnificent loggia designed by Fillipo Brunelleschi– who was also the creator of the iconic dome for the Duomo.  The blue roundels of infants on either side of the arches were created by Andrea della Robbia.

Grated window at the orphanage. From Windows on Italy.

The choices we make within the boundaries of the twists of fate determines who we are~John Perkins

Abandoned babies were slipped through the grated window pictured above.  The quote in the mural is from the Book of Psalms– “Our father and mother have abandoned us, but the Lord has taken us in.” (Psalm XXVI).

Two medals. From the Oespedale degli Innocenti, Florence.

Even when I was in the orphanage, when I was roaming the street trying to find enough to eat, even then I thought of myself as the greatest actor in the world. I had to feel the exuberance that comes from utter confidence in yourself. Without it, you go down to defeat. — Charlie Chaplin, actor, director

Often the babies arrived with a small momento from their birth family–a scrap of cloth, a religious medal.  The hope was that one day the family could reunite by tracking down the matching piece of the medal or the strip of cloth.

Inner Courtyard, Ospedale degli Innocenti, Florence.

Over the next century, the number of abandoned babies continued to increase–from 200 to over a thousand a year.  The future of these children depended largely on their gender.  Boys were often apprenticed to artists or members of a guild.  Girls were trained in the domestic arts.

The hospital continued to grow over time with the number of girls surpassing the number of boys.  Sections of the orphanage were added, like the inner courtyard pictured above.

Ultimately, the orphanage closed its doors in the second half of the 20th Century when the Florentine society felt that children were better cared for in foster homes instead of orphanages.

Madonna and Child, Ospedale degli Innocenti, Florence.  Shot with a Fuji X-T2.

Today, the Ospedale offers services to children, pregnant mothers and women with young children. It also helps to promote the rights of children.

Sections of the orphanage have been turned into a museum which documents its history and mission.  It also displays an art collection commissioned by its patrons over the centuries.  These works often depict children.

Terrace Cafe. Ospedale degli Innocenti.

When we finish the tour, we’ll go up to the roof.  There on the terrace, we’ll sip an espresso or a cocktail.  While we chat, we’ll admire the view of Florence–including the Duomo–another work created by Fillipo Bruneschelli.

View from the Terrace, Ospedale degli Innocenti, Florence

I hope you enjoyed your trip to the museum!  It was one of our favorite spots in Florence.  I often think about how many parents had to abandon their children in orphanages when their financial circumstances changed or their health declined.  I wonder if the foster care system is an improvement.  What do you think?

And finally, I hope you have an inspiring week.

22 replies »

    • Thank you, Cindy! I’m so glad you enjoyed this one. The museum was very moving–especially the stories of the orphans and the objects from their families. I hope all’s well with you. 🙂

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  1. Interesting as usual, Patti. I did not know about how families tried to give the child something to track them by – in order to reunite later in life. Somehow that gesture makes me feel even more sad. The love of a child – and having to let it go…
    A lovely and thoughtful post. And I do believe many foster homes take better care of the children. But some, we can read in the papers about, must be dreadful places.

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    • Thanks so much, Ann-Christine! I am so glad you found this interesting. I was fascinated by the orphanage. I agree that many children are placed in loving and caring foster homes. Unfortunately, the news focuses on the negative ones more often. I was so moved by the momentos too. There are drawers filled with them. I kept imagining the children’s stories and their parent(s). Thanks, as always, for your thoughts!

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  2. I tried to leave a comment with my phone yesterday but it’s just as well I didn’t. Having looked at it ‘full size’ I don’t think It’s the place I thought it was. Mine had a huge central courtyard, but with more steps. I’m not sure if you could actually visit, or indeed if there was a rooftop cafe. Florence is simply full of wonders, isn’t it? 🙂 🙂 Thanks for sharing, Patti!

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    • Hi, Jo. As far as I know, this is the only orphanage in Florence. It may be the same one. The museum opened fairly recently with the cafe. But in any case, it’s true. Florence is full of wonders! Hope you have some great walks this week!

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    • Hi, Maria. I’m so glad you like the photos, Maria! Yes, I’d agree that the stories of adoption and the hospital’s mission are spiritual. They had a strong sense of caring for children and their future. It is a fascinating place!

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  3. Wonderful post Patti! Indeed I’ve often thought how fortunate I was to be born into my time, place and family. Pure luck. Loved the story and the photos. As for foster care, I think again you just have to get lucky. Some are very loving, others not so much.

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