, Volume 46, Issue 2, pp 267–269 | Cite as

Soft-tissue infection secondary to cellulitis killed St. John of the Cross (1542–1591)

  • Raffaella Bianucci
  • Otto Appenzeller
  • Peter Evans
  • Philippe Charlier
  • Antonio Perciaccante
Case Report



St. John of the Cross (1542–1591) died aged 49 years after 3 months of excruciating pain following a trivial lesion in his right foot. Erysipelas, a superficial bacterial infection of the skin, and subsequent sepsis were previously suggested as the cause of his death. Here, an alternative diagnosis is proposed.


An accurate perusal of his biography allowed the symptomatology, the clinical evolution, the depth of the infection and the associated systemic manifestations displayed by Fray John to be reconstructed.


St. John of the Cross developed cellulitis in the foot, which turned into a cutaneous abscess. To treat the toxaemia and inhibit further necrosis of the skin, excision of necrotic tissue and cauterization of the sores were performed to no avail. The infection burrowed through the fascial planes and reached the bones of the leg, leading to osteomyelitis.


In the absence of antibiotic treatments and proper antiseptic procedures, the soft-tissue infection spread deeper to the bones. It is not unconceivable that the surgery might have further promoted the spread of the bacteria giving rise to the secondary sepsis that led to St. John’s premature death.


Cellulitis Cutaneous abscess Soft-tissue Septicaemia 



Raffaella Bianucci is funded by Wellcome Trust (202792/Z/16/Z) but the work was independent of it. Otto Appenzeller is supported by the New Mexico Health Enhancement and Marathon Clinics Research. Foundation, Albuquerque, NM, USA.

Compliance with ethical standards



Conflict of interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Legal Medicine Section, Department of Public Health and Paediatric SciencesUniversity of TurinTurinItaly
  2. 2.Warwick Medical School, Microbiology and Infection DivisionUniversity of WarwickCoventryUK
  3. 3.UMR 7268, Laboratoire d’Anthropologie bio-culturelle, Droit, Etique and Santé (Adés), Faculté de Médecine de MarseilleMarseilleFrance
  4. 4.New Mexico Health Enhancement and Marathon Clinics Research FoundationAlbuquerqueUSA
  5. 5.New Mexico Museum of Natural History and ScienceAlbuquerqueUSA
  6. 6.MelbourneAustralia
  7. 7.Section of Medical and Forensic Anthropology (UVSQ DANTE Laboratory EA4498)Montigny-Le-BretonneuxFrance
  8. 8.CASH and IPESNanterreFrance
  9. 9.Department of Medicine“San Giovanni di Dio” HospitalGoriziaItaly

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