We have an apartment this week in the town of Beaune. It is one of the key wine centers in France and is surrounded by some of the world’s most famous wine villages. The cellars of many vineyards are situated in the town itself, considered the “Capital of Burgundy wines.”It is an ancient town, with features remaining from pre-Roman and Roman eras, through the medieval and renaissance periods. Beaune is intimately connected with the Dukes of Burgundy, who played such a pivotal role in the story of our poor Joan of Arc.
One of the most famous landmarks here is the Hôtel-Dieu, founded in 1443. The aftermath of the Hundred Years’ War was bloody, the majority of the people of Beaune were destitute, and the plague had broken out. Nicolas Rolin, the Duke of Burgundy’s Chancellor, and his wife Guigone de Salins, responded by building a hospital and refuge for the poor and established the “Les sœurs hospitalières de Beaune” religious order. There is some indication that he was hoping that this act of charity would be his ticket to heaven after a life spent acquiring great wealth by various means. But it was a long time ago and that could be just vicious rumor.
At any rate, Nicolas went all the way with what is also called the Hospices de Beaune, which received the first patient on 1 January 1452.It remained as a hospital until the late 1970’s and is today regarded as an exceptional example of Northern Renaissance architecture. The hospital is arranged so that the wings served the office, kitchen and apothecary functions. The nuns and patients were housed nearer the chapel, towards the center of the complex. The tile roof and other well-preserved features are amazing, and there is a treasure trove of wonderful artifacts.
As a result of the original bequest and later endowments, the Hospices own valuable vineyards in the area. In fact, the annual wine auction of the Hospices de Beaune is the primary wine auction in France. That is one way they finance the new modern hospital that continues to provide care for the poor.
And then there is Notre-Dame de Beaune, dating from the second half of the 12th century, and considered one of the last great Romanesque churches of Burgundy, built in the Cluny style. Amazing tapestries of the life of Mary are among its treasures.
And what does one eat in this town? Beef Burgundy, of course, with the appropriate local vintage. Delicious.