"" Writer's Wanderings: France - Beaune

Friday, November 20, 2009

France - Beaune

In the Burgundy region of France known for its wines, is the city of Beaune. Dating back to before the Roman conquest in 59-51 BC, it was the seat of the dukes of Burgundy during the 14th and 15th centuries and still has many buildings from that period. The town is surrounded by a river and a wall that protected it.

The Hotel Dieu, a charitable hospital founded by Nicolas Rolin and his wife, Guigone de Salins, is one of the main attractions. From the outside, it is very plain but once you enter the courtyard, you are struck by the magnificent colors of the roof. Most all of the decoration inside and out must be viewed by looking up. It was to inspire the very ill who of course, could only look up from their pallets or beds.

The grand hall featured 28 small beds which accommodated three patients each—regardless of sex. To fit them into the beds, two were laid in one direction and one in the other. Pity the poor person who had to smell four feet. But these patients were the very ill and many did not survive. And for many, it was the first time they had ever laid in a bed. Further on just off the courtyard was another room, smaller, but for the wealthier patients who did not have to share a bed.

At the end of the grand hall is a chapel. All of the beds faced the chapel so the patients could contemplate their possible demise (wonder how the one laying in the opposite direction could). The beams above their heads appear to be the demons of hell spewing out the beams that support the ceiling—a reminder of where you would go if you did not repent.

The tiles in the middle of the grand hall were specially designed to reflect the great love between Nicholas and Guigone. Their initials are intertwined by a vine of oak around which is the word “Seule” and a star. Our guide told us that Nicholas would tell Guigone that she was the lone star in his life. When he died, she continued the work on the chapel but in the chapel, the tapestries on the wall have the word “Seulle” and a star signifying that she was now a lonely star.

The hospital was a model for its time where the patients were cared for by the Sisters of the Hospices de Beaune. A pharmacy was on site as well as a large kitchen for preparing meals. All of this was embellished with beautiful tapestries and works of art, one of which was originally in the chapel but now has its own room to preserve it. It is the Last Judgement by Flemish artist Roger Van der Weyden. The backside of the panels that closed over the main painting featured the Rolins in meditative prayer.
Later, as we explored the town on our own a bit, we came across this candy store that featured what I first thought was meringue. They called it nougat and it came in all sorts of flavors, was a bit chewy but oh, so good!

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