Joachim Oelhaf

1580 was a crucial year for medicine in Gdansk.

It was when lectures on anatomy were introduced in Gdansk Academic Gymnasium, and the cathedral of anatomy and medicine was opened there. It was headed by the first official professor of anatomy in the Kingdom of Poland – Johann Mathesius (born in Joachimsthal,  Bohemia1544- died 1607).

His successor was Joachim Oelhaf.

This Gdansk citizen was one of the most eminent doctors in the 17th century Kingdom of Poland. He studied at Wittenberg. Then he spent some time at the Polish royal court, where he had the opportunity to benefit from the experience of the court physician of Sigismund III Vasa – Giovanni Battista Gemma.

Scholarship awarded by the City Council of Gdansk allowed Oelhaf to continue his studies in Padua and Montpellier, where he obtained a doctorate in medicine. At that time, Padua was a major center of the anatomical research.

Oelhaf returned to Gdansk in 1602, taking a function of the City’s physician. The year 1602 is a year of plague in Gdansk. It is considered that at least 15,000 lost their lives then – with an estimated population of about 50,000 – counting the suburbs. During this terrible time Dr. Oelhaf demonstrated great dedication, and gave evidence that he became a doctor from vocation. His generosity gained him a great esteem in Gdansk. When the epidemic ended life in the city slowly returned to normal – and also the Gymnasium re-opened. Joachim was appointed professor of  anatomy and medicine there. Now, in addition to medical practice, he lectured, participated in the debates of scholars, which was in good tone, and wrote scientific papers. As he was interested in botany as an auxiliary science for medicine, he founded a garden for medicinal herbs on the city’s ramparts. Medicine was his passion, and cognition – the route to it.

It is known that he conducted three autopsies. The first one was of a child with pathology of liver, the next – was necropsy of professor Keckermann. On February 27th of the year 1613 he conducted the first in this part of Europe public autopsy. In the times of the Franciscans it was the small refectory,  then in the times of Gdansk Academic Gymnasium it became the anatomy hall. Today there is an exhibition of  gold smithery in the room. And the building today houses Gdansk National Museum. This autopsy of 1613 was of a child with multiple defects. The child was born in nearby Pruszcz Gdanski (Praust). The results of the autopsy were published – hence it became known internationally throughout the then medical world.

During his stays in Gdansk, the King gladly visited Oelhaf. Those royal visits undoubtedly raised the prestige of the city physician.

Oelhaf’s life was very intense, because in addition to medical practice, lectures at the Gymnasium, disputes, has conducted experiments, and investigations of the medicinal properties of plants, he participated in surgeries, and he wrote treatises on physiology and anatomy. Unfortunately, this success story and the activity were interrupted by the plague in 1630. Joachim was one of its victims.

Joachim had a son: Nicholas who continued research on the herbs after his famous father. He has published work in the field of herbal medicine. And in this he was a forerunner. He described about  350 plants used in medicine. Nicholas was also the town doctor (physician), and the court physician of King Wladyslaw IV. Considering the kidney illness, from which the King had suffered since his early youth – Nicholas was a very busy court physician.

Unfortunately I know nothing more about his further life. Therefore it is all for the time being.

 

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