Rags and Riches: the Hospices of Beaune

Client: Back-Roads Touring

The Hospices of Beaune

This Burgundian hospital is a stunning example of late-medieval architecture and is one of France’s most prestigious and revered historic monuments. It immediately impresses even from a distance, owed to its flamboyance and unique symbiosis of late Gothicval and gothic architectural styles. The iconic Hospices De Beaune was built in 1443 and it is famed for the steep rooftops which are intricately covered in artistic polychrome tiles which are arranged in ornate and swirling patterns. Amid the tiles, the roofs are also flourished with imposing castle-like turrets that strut along the top.

While it no longer carries out its medieval duties as a place of care, the Hospices of Beaune now act as a monument to its humble past. It is a trove of historical significance and contains some incredible works of art, such as Rogier van der Weyden’s 15th-century masterpiece; Polyptych of the Last Judgement. You can also expect to enjoy the serene courtyard, periodic exhibitions, and examples of authentic medieval interior décor in the form of the 160 feet long Grande Salle.  

Forged From War: The History Behind The Hospital

In throes and turmoil of The Hundred Years War, many of those who were not afforded the luxuries of the wealthy found themselves displaced and without food as battles and skirmishes ravaged the French countryside. In 1443, chancellor Nicolas Rolin used his vast medical expertise to found the hospital as a place of free care and safety, hoping that his sins would be resolved by the charitable act. Throughout the rest of his life, Nicolas provided for the hospital by giving it an annual income to help the burden of medical care, including vineyards and farms. His dedication to helping the unfortunate would ensure that the hospital would survive for centuries.

It finally ended its intended function in 1971, and since then it has been enchanting visitors with its interesting glimpse into medieval life.  

Inside The Hospices de Beaune

This institution was contemporarily unique and it garnered a great reputation in France as the ‘Palace of the poor’, and with great reason. The was the height of decadence as far as free care would have gone. Visitors to the hospice were welcomed by huge serene courtyards, stained glass windows, great kitchens, and stunning chapels. And all at the care of dedicated of Sisters of the Hospices de Beaune. It was in the chapel where the patients would have been in the presence of the magnificently imposing The Last Judgment, which was commissioned by Rogier Van der Weyden’s. This gigantic multipaneled depiction of Christian ideals would have humbled the poor patients, with its stirring imagery and vivid technicolour splendour. It would have also been viewed as a representation of Nicolas’ philanthropy.

The Hospice also retains a museum which documents its coveted past. On display, they have strange and irregular medical instruments that were used in the 15th century, as well as flasks and jars that would hold powders and elixirs. And for those with a passion for wine, you’d be happy to know that the wine estate gifted back in 1475 has been in production in some form, and this continues to this day. At over 60 acres, and under the guidance of 22 expert winemakers, this outstanding vineyard specialises pinot noir and chardonnay, some of which is sold at wine auctions which are indicative of its quality.

A visit to The Hospices of Beaune is meditative and enchanting in equal measure. With stunning architecture, incredible art, and unique history behind it all, it is easy to see why it is one of France’s most treasured buildings.

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