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Hospices de Beaune - the Hôtel-Dieu
Walking around the town of Beaune you might well ask, where is this famous building with the multi-coloured roof? You can pass by the exterior of the Hôtel-Dieu housing the Hospices de Beaune thinking it just another imposing, rather austere building in a very regal town.
But the jewel is within. The two wings of this ancient hospital have been built around a central courtyard with deep roofs covered in glazed multicoloured tiles arranged in geometric patterns. Inset in the roofs are gable windows with carvings and decoration which are an art form in themselves.
The Hôtel-Dieu was built in the golden age of Burgundy in 1443 by Nicholas Rolin, the Chancellor of Duke Philippe-le-Bon. Beaune at the time was suffering from poverty and famine after the Hundred Years’ War and so as a sweetener, Rolin and his wife, founded the Hospice for the Poor, giving it an annual income and its own resources, vines and salt works.
Right up until the 20th century, the sick were cared for by the Sisters of the Hospices de Beaune in the magnificent building. Its reputation spread far and wide and it became known as the ‘Palace of the Poor’. Donations were received, new rooms added with works of art included. Hospitals in other communes, Pommard, Volnay and Meursault joined forces to make up the Hospices, bringing with them donations of vineyards, which today total 53 hectares. The famous wine auction, a charity sale, held each November at the Hospices is still reaping the rewards.
Down each side of the Great Hall with its wooden vaulted roof, built like the hull of a ship, the curtained four-poster beds are aligned. The chapel at the end of the room is an intricate part of it. Here the polyptych painted by the Flemish artist Roger Van de Weyden representing the Last Judgement used to hang, seen by the sick only on Sundays and feast days. Today this is now on display in a room of its own. You can visit the kitchen which has recently been restored, the pharmacy and dispensary which used many herbs grown in the ‘jardins des simples’ behind.
This medieval building is a fine example of Burgundian-Flemish art and the ironwork and carvings, the tapestries and polyptych are works of art in themselves.
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Pam Elson ©burgundytoday.com