Hôtel-Dieu de Beaune


A remarkable example of Ancien Régime hospital architecture, the Hôtel-Dieu of Beaune (2, rue de l'Hôtel-Dieu), in Burgundy, was founded on 4th August 1443 by Nicolas Rolin, Philip the Good's wealthy chancellor, with the intention to put his fortune at the service of "the sick and the poor". His third wife, Guigone de Salins, contributed to the establishment of the institution, even if no mention of her was made in the founding charter. In 1462, at Rolin's death, she took on the running of the hospital, heading its activities but also devoting herself to the cure of the sick1.

Equalled only by the Hôtel-Dieu de Tonnerre in the Yonne, Beaune's represents finely the evolution of such institutions in the course of the Middle Ages: beginning as small "lazzarettos", offering shelter and medical care, until the creation of true hospitals with the arrival of Franciscan and Dominican monasteries between the 13th and 15th centuries.

The entrance nowadays and in the past2


External Architecture

Various buildings make up the "medical" complex, three of which are decorated with a glazed-tile roof. The roofs, a typical example of Burgundian architecture, are strongly suggestive thanks to the elaborated designs created by four-coloured tiles: red, brown, yellow and green. The current tiles, dating back to the period 1902-1907, are actually a recreation of the original ones. They surround and embellish La Cour d'Honneur, which is the main courtyard of the whole structure. This one also led to the cemetery and the gardens.

The courtyard3 and its colorful roofs


The Great Hall of the Poor

The focal point was la Grand' Chambre des Pôvres- the Great Hall of the Poor-, which could accommodate up to sixty patients, each bed serving "for one sick person and often two". The long aisle ends with the Chapel, which made it possible for the invalid to attend Mass without moving from their beds. The sick were given help and support by the hospitaller nuns; these latter had to follow the new order's rule that Nicolas Rolin had drawn up for them, which consisted basically in poverty, chastity and obedience4.
Unfortunately, the Great Hall has lost some of its authenticity: its present state is a result of a Neo-Gothic restoration undertaken in 1872-78.


View of the hall5 and a bed for "the sick and the poor"

Some tiles present a peculiar decoration, bearing Nicolas Rolin's motto Seulle ("alone") and N.G., the initials of the two spouses. The Chapel still preserves Guigone's tomb and used to contain Rogier Van der Weyden's the Last Judgement polyptych (created in 1446-1452), now located in a specially air-conditioned room6.


The Last Judgement polyptych

Salle Saint-Hugues

Just behind the great Hall of the Poor, we can observe the Salle Saint-Hugues, created in 1645. This room was financed by a donor and contains twelve beds destined to the sick presenting the least severe symptoms. Salle Saint-Hugues is also known for Isaac Moillon's paintings, representing miracles of the homonymous Saint, hanging on its walls7.


Saint-Hugues room

Other private rooms were created and furnished over the centuries, mainly thanks to the generosity of benefactors; a smaller room, the "infirmary", used to accomodate the "seriously ill"- those in danger of death.

Pharmacy and laboratory

In the 17th century, one of the first pharmacies within an hospice's walls was established. Hundreds or so phials of medicine were lined up on its shelves, as we can see in the following shots. The vases are made of glass and have different dimensions and forms; they used to contain various substances, which mainly derived from local ingredients.


Hotel-Dieu's inside pharmacy

Right next to the pharmacy there is the Laboratoire, the apothecary laboratory; it became a pharmacy when, for economic reasons, in 1788 it was decided to replace the apothecary's services with the employment of two nun-pharmacists, who started selling medicines.
The room is adorned with an 18th century painting by Charles Coquelet Souville, representing the apothecary Claude Morelot preparing remedies with some assistants in his dispensary in Beaune8.


The laboratory

  • Main text and photos by Alice Russo moc.liamg|ossurcila#| and Alessia Capozzi ti.liame|opacela#| (November 2017)


- Paul Esdouhard, "Une visite à l'Hôtel-Dieu de Beaune", Mémoires / Société d'archéologie de Beaune. Histoire, lettres, sciences et arts, 1912, vol. 36, pp. 173-197
- Claudine Hugonnet-Berger, The Hôtel-Dieu at Beaune (translated by John Tittensor), Somogy éditions d'art, Paris 2005, pp. 128

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