Biography of Saint John of God

The founder of the Order of Fatebenefratelli was born in 1495 at Montemor-o-Novo in Portugal at the time of John II and Ferdinand and Isabel of Spain and under the pontificate of Alexander VI. The year of his birth was uncovered by the historian Francesco de Castro, the biographer of the saint.

Andrea Ciudad or Cidade was Giovanni di Dio's fathers name, but his mother's name remains unknown. In 1503, at the age of eight years, Giovanni left his father's house to go and live in Oropesa in the house of a man called Mayoral. The circumstances of young John's departure remain clouded in mystery and seem to tragically mark the life of the entire family. Soon after, the mother died and the father went into a Franciscan convent in Lisbon.

In 1523, we know for certain that John was a soldier at Fuenterrabia under the command of the Count of the city of Oropesa, fighting in the war against the French. He was later discharged, tried and condemned to hang for not carrying out his assigned military duties. Saved by a very influential person, we find him in 1532 as a soldier in Vienna fighting in the war against the Turks.

In 1533 he returned to Spain thereafter making a pilgrimage to Compostela. Continuing to Portugal, he visited his birthplace and then went on to Gibraltar to embark on a journey to Ceuta in Africa.

The decision to go to Africa, following a gentleman and his family seems to stem already from his desire to help the sick and poor. Notwithstanding, in 1538 he was back in Spain working as a book salesman first in Gibraltar and then in Granada where he opened a small shop in the port of Elvira.

John's conversion took place in January of 1539 on the feast day of San Sebastian the martyr. On that day, the maestro Giovanni d'Avila was preaching in the city. John's conversion was so "clamorous" that he was locked up as a lunatic in the royal hospital of Granada.

Later that year, after having left the hospital, he began his work curing the sick and helping the poor and emarginated people for whom beds in the hospital were always insufficient. Consulting d'Avila, he went on a pilgrimage to Guadeloupe in Estremadura, then he returned to Baeza and from here on to Granada where in the autumn of 1539 he founded the first hospital in a rented house on calle Lucena. It is only seven years later that we have news of John's first companions: Antonio Martin and Pietro Velasco.

In 1547 the hospital in calle Lucena was moved to salita Gomelez where there were 200 beds. In 1548 in order to deal with the needs of his hospital, Giovanni went to the court of Phillips II at Valladolid. In 1549 the hospital was seriously damaged by a fire which severely tested John who, nonetheless was able to save all of the patients.

Gomez Moreno: Saint John of God saves the patients from the fire.

His date of death is certain, March 8, 1550 at the age of 55 in the city of Granada.

His followers arrived in Italy in 1584 and established themselves in Rome on Tiberina Island where there already existed an ancient hospital and where they still reside.

In 1587, some of these came to Florence under the guidance of Brother Giovanni Bonelli.

A short Saint John of God biography in Italian language is available.

(Last updated: Tuesday 26 September 1995)
Copyright © 1995 by Associazione San Giovanni di Dio