Antonio Sanchez (1699-1783)
Antonio Nunes Ribeiro Sanchez was born in 1699 in Portugal which in those days was a place for religious bigotry. He was born to a wealthy family of baptized Jews, or marranos, and received a very good education. He studied philosophy in Coimbra and medicine in Salamanca, starting his medical practice in Lisbon. Under the influence of his uncle who was a passionate fighter against the Inquisition, Sanchez soon returned to the religion of his ancestors. In order to be circumcised and revert to Judaism, and he had to leave his native country, as it turned out, forever.
In 1727 Antonio came to London where he openly practiced Judaism. After having lived for some time in the Jewish community of London, he decided to move to the Netherlands. There he started working as a tutor in a Jewish family and then on their recommendation entered Leiden University. His studies were paid for by the Dutch Jewish community. In Leiden Sanchez joined the medical clinic of Dr. Herman Boerhaave. According to his own words, during his two years of study under Boerhave, Sanchez acquired more knowledge than during all the years of his previous studies. Boerhave, on his part, also appreciated him and recommended him to the Russian Empress Anna Ioannovna who needed physicians.
Sanchez started his service in Russia as a physician of the Noble Infantry Regiment. Gradually he became famous as a remarkable specialist. He was called in during an illness of Anna Ioannovna and then was given the position of the second physician of the Court. In 1744 he managed to save the life of a young girl who was seriously ill and given up for lost by the other doctors. This was the German Princess Sofia Frederika, bride of the heir of the Russian throne Peter III, who later became known as Catherine the Great.
Sanchez was known not only as a practicing physician, but also as a scholar. He was selected to be a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and published several scientific works, one of them dedicated to the medical value of the Russian steam bath. He was the first foreign scholar who studied the health effects of the Russian baths.
Some of his colleagues, who had also come from Europe, envied him and started spreading word of his Jewishness. Elizabeth did not like Jews, and Sanchez was forced to retire, after which he left St. Petersburg for Paris. As a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences he had a pension of 200 rubles a year.
In Paris Sanchez continued his medical practice. He treated poor people for free, but soon ran into serious financial problems. Upon orders from Elizabeth, the President of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Kirila Razumovsky, deprived him of his title and pension. In his letter Razumovsky explained that this was done because Sanchez was Jewish, and though the Empress supported his scientific work, she did not want to have Jews in her Academy. Sanchez replied that since his birth, Christians had considered him Jewish and Jews Christian, and that he had the same blood in his veins as the first apostles and saints.
In 1762 Catherine II came to power and remembered the scholar who had saved her life. She ordered the Academy of Sciences to reinstate Sanchez and pay him a special pension of 1000 rubles a year from her own money.
Sanchez died in 1783 in Paris. His legacy comprises scientific works in various spheres of learning. The greater part of it consists of medical treatises, the most famous being the treatise on the origin and treatment of syphilis. Besides medicine, Sanchez wrote on earthquakes, commerce, education, and enlightenment. For example, he translated and edited for Betskoy the statutes for London orphanages and this work was used as a basis for organizing similar institutions in Russia.
Some of Sanchez's works were not intended for publication: "Concerning the Origin of the Name 'New Christians'" and "My Thoughts on Inquisition for My Personal Use" were published only for the first time in 1956 in Lisbon.
Antonio Nunes Ribeiro Sanchez