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The Medical Advances of Servetus, Vesalius, and Harvey

Updated on July 6, 2012
Michael Servetus
Michael Servetus | Source

Michael Servetus

Michael Servetus was born in 1511 and executed in 1553, yet he is the reason that Harvey was able to come up with his theory on blood circulation and the circulatory system. Servetus published a book, Christianismi Restitutio (The Restoration of Christianity) which, besides angering the Catholic and Protestant churches, contained the first true description of the pulmonary circulatory system. Unfortunately, while his science was good, his religious beliefs led to his death in 1553 when Calvin and his Protestants burned him as a heretic.

Andrea Vesalius
Andrea Vesalius | Source

Andreas Vesalius

Andreas Vesalius was born in 1514 and was one of the geniuses of his time. In December of 1537, he decided he needed to increase his knowledge in medicine and enrolled as a student in Padua on December 3. Within three days he had gained his doctorate, been made faculty, and was teaching. Unlike other teachers at the time, he did his own dissections while lecturing instead of having assistants doing it, a bold change to the classroom procedures of the time. Since dissections were finally legal, he used criminals for dissections. Because of all of his work, he found discrepancies with existing theories and began to think that dissection was necessary to assure himself that theories were valid. In 1539 he published a book on veins and blood letting, and in 1543 he published De Humanis Corpiris Fabrica, images of which can be found on the Internet even today. The images used in the book were amazing, as he used professional artists to render them. He believed he could see the work of God by looking at the human body, a theory similar to thinkers of the beginning of the Renaissance who thought they could help to recreate the glory of God through their artwork. His theories were accepted as correct and spread rapidly.

William Harvey ( 1578-1657) Image of veins from Harvey's exercitatio
William Harvey ( 1578-1657) Image of veins from Harvey's exercitatio | Source

William Harvey

William Harvey was born in 1578. He studied at Padua after Vesalius taught there. He was very interested in the blood and the circulatory system, believing that the blood was the basis of life. He grasped the concepts of veins and arteries, but failed to understand why blood returned to the heart through the lungs.


These three men were pioneers in medicine and science. Without their work, modern medicine would not have advanced. It is unfortunate that Servetus was executed as his work may have turned out to be more important than it was, but he at least began the look that was continued later in the century and into the next. It is also interesting to note that without the use of the printing press, these ideas would have gone nowhere. So while medicine helped make advances, other advances also helped make medicine.


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    • InglenookObserver profile image

      InglenookObserver 5 years ago from Southwestern Wisconsin

      What a struggle to achieve these successes which paved the way to others. It may be difficult to get published and receive tenure, but at least in this country they don't kill you for the discoveries you make.