Amongst the great gestures of charity of St. Camillus in helping the sick there is an episode of great importance which also owed its fame to the hand of the famous artist Pierre Subleyras (1699-1749): the flooding of the Tiber at the Hospital of the Holy Spirit as described to us by a historian.
As was his custom on Christmas Eve Camillus went to the Hospital of the Holy Spirit. The river the previous night had risen a great deal and that day, which was ‘cloudy and troubled by very bad winds, the river without any restraint washed through all the streets.
The Founder, less concerned about himself and his home which had already been invaded by the waters, entered the hospital and asked for the prior. He told him in no uncertain terms about the grave danger for the patients if they were left in the large ward on the ground floor. The prior, paying attention to this advice that Camillus had given, which he thought was inspired, gave orders to the servants to move the most seriously sick patients to the ward which was some four or five steps higher and was on the left side of the building. In the afternoon, when the Founder returned to the Hospital of the Holy Spirit, with a clearer vision of the danger that hung over the hospital he saw that what had been done was not sufficient. The prior, responding to the observations of the saint, ordered the patients to be moved to the highest part of the hospital, to the so-named ‘ward of the nobles’.
At that time, as well, the ‘ward of the nobles’ was a poor thing but at that point it responded to the circumstances, if only because of its elevated position.
The bad humour of the servants and the religious of the Hospital of the Holy Spirit caused by the new orders given by the prior was noted by everyone. They began to whisper against Camillus who in their view was excessively alarmed. A certain familiarity with those sudden and increases in water levels and partial flooding (this was the third time this had happened in the year 1598) seemed to them a sufficient justification for refusing to engage in a burdensome undertaking which had hitherto never been made necessary.
However, the esteem and deference that the prior felt for Camillus prevailed over the whispers and the complaints of the personnel. The Founder then became so worried about the delay, while the night was coming on and the waters were rising in a threatening way, that he ordered six of his religious, two of whom, Father Cromazio De Martino and Father Cesare Bonino were General Consultors, to direct the saving of about two hundred patients, and with super-human energy he himself put them on his shoulders and climbed the narrow stairs that led to the ‘ward of the nobles’’.
Source: ‘Sagre natalizie del Santo Fondatore’, in Domesticum 26 (1929), pp. 190-192.