The ancient rooms of the San Salvatore Museum present a very particular and largely unknown chapter in the religious history of Ticino and that of the Lugano area in particular.
The School of Saint Martha, established in 1513 as a devotional order, is now referred to as the Archfraternity of Good Death and Prayer.
The garment originally worn by the members of this brotherhood was a cloak of coarse white cloth cinched with a belt. The Brethren’s faces were completely hidden by their hoods, which had just two holes for their eyes. They wore this garment to accompany those condemned to death on their final journey and during solemn processions held in and around Lugano. Over the course of the centuries, the Archfraternity undertook a wealth of great deeds, underpinned not only by their faith but also by noble and humanitarian causes, encompassing all charitable deeds to ease physical and spiritual suffering. One particular and very important deed undertaken by the Brotherhood was that of accompanying individuals condemned to death to the gallows.
This final act came after three days of care, during which the Brethren of Saint Martha gave succour and comfort to those whose earthly life was about to end. After the execution, by hanging, drowning or even decapitation, the body was made presentable again by the Brethren, who also performed the religious rites and burial.
As it has done for centuries, the Archfraternity today carries out a host of activities, its good work over the ages documented in the archives.
The Brotherhood operated from the Church of Saint Martha within the hospital until the latter was demolished in (1914), later moving its headquarters to the present-day church of Saint Anthony in Lugano. On July 10th, 1680, the Chapter of San Lorenzo donated the Church of San Salvatore to the Archfraternity, which still owns the church today.
Each year the impressive oratory hosts the celebrations for the feast of the Ascension, an event attended en masse by the Brethren and the faithful from all over the Lugano region. The Archfraternity also owns the building which houses the Museum, known as the "Old Hospice", which in olden times offered shelter to travellers and the poor and was used for spiritual retreats by the Archfraternity itself.
The museum is home to an impressive collection of rare and precious objects collected over the course of the centuries, proof of the Archfraternity’s long-standing devotion to religious and humanitarian work.
In the small museum, some of these treasures are on public display in order to highlight and perpetuate the Brethren’s good work.