Beginning in 1445, this grate located on the outside of the Ospedale degli Innocenti (Hospital of the Innocents) served as a drop-off point for the foundlings of Florence. This is what happened when a woman abandoned her baby here:
She turned the wheel. The child spun around in turnstile like a pack of
cigarettes at a 24 hour deli. Once on the other side, the child began a
short slide down a chute into "the basin of abandonment". On either
side of the basin kneeled two terra-cotta figures. For looking over the
basin was Mary and Joseph, the basin doubling as a manger. The child is
quickly picked up and brought to be wet-nursed. But for one brief
moment the child is Jesus himself.
The Ospedale degli Innocenti has cared for over 375,000 in its five and a half centuries, and continues to help care for abandoned children today.
-- Curious Expeditions
The use of the wheel ended in 1875, but the idea itself survives:
Technicians [in Rome] are designing a high-tech version of the traditional
â€œrevolving cribâ€, or â€œfoundling wheelâ€. Half of the wheel will be
outside the hospital wall and the other half inside. Staff inside the
hospital will turn the wheel to collect the infant without seeing who
has left it.
Grazia Passeri, the head of the Italian Civil
Rights Association, said that the first modern â€œfoundling wheelâ€ would
be installed at a leading hospital by Christmas. â€œWe have to face the
fact that a lot of women simply cannot cope with being mothers or
become pregnant by accident or through rape,â€ she said.