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Birthday: The Faculty of Medicine turns 563


The Faculty of Medicine of the University of Basel was founded on April 4, 1460, at a time when the cosmos still seemed to revolve around the earth and human health depended on four humors. No one in Europe knew about the Americas, and society was arranged along a vertical axis.

The depiction of the founding act in the so-called rectorate register shows what social coordinates prevailed in the world of that time: In the center of the picture in front of the altar sits Bishop Johann von Venningen as deputy of the Pope. With his right hand he appoints the provost Georg von Andlau, kneeling in front on the left, as rector of the newly founded University of Basel and with his left hand he hands over the papal deed of foundation to the deputy of the council Johann von Flachsland. To the left of the altar goes down an implied ecclesiastical order, to the right of it an equally only implied civic order. Thus the picture represents not only the university foundation supported by God, pope and bishop, but also a social hierarchy that is as strict as it is ultimately steep.

But the picture also unintentionally reveals an inner contradiction: like all other universities, the one in Basel will contribute in the following centuries to dissolving this social order, which is solely oriented towards God. With God's blessing, an institution was founded here that began to read the so-called "Book of Nature" as if it were a second Bible and to find things there that could not be reconciled with Catholic doctrine. Thus, early anatomists such as Andreas Vesalius were no longer deterred from performing dissections and gaining their own insight into the human body. As a result of this curiosity, the notion of diseases as Christian moral entities was invalidated by the determination of concrete causes, and this knowledge was in turn translated into measures to combat, alleviate, or prevent them.

In this way, and in a thousand other ways, the universities, including that of Basel, became the driving forces of a completely new worldview in which social orders were also renegotiated from the ground up. Seen in this light, the account that precedes the Rectorate Matriculation shows not only the handing over of the papal charter of endowment but also, unintentionally, the transfer of interpretive sovereignty over the earthly world into the hands of one's own contemplation, exploration, and judgment.

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