A hostel and church was established around 726 by King Ine of Wessex to cater for weary and sick pilgrims who descended from the north. Known as the burgus saxonum or in Sassia, this district became the nucleus of the world's first purpose-built hospital. The name in Sassia persists although British funds for the hostel were cut off with the Norman invasion of England in 1066, after which it passed into papal hands and thence to the Templar knight Guy de Montpellier, who founded the Order of the Holy Spirit (Santo Spirito).
A few rooms of the modern hospital of Santo Spirito house a gruesome collection of medical artefacts, dating from ancient times to the 19th century. The two massive 15th-century frescoed wards, the gloriously elegant fruit of a rebuilding programme in Renaissance times, were only recently emptied of their beds to provide space for itinerant exhibitions. Any rare opportunity to visit them should be seized.