Written after a museum visit to the Hospices de Beaune during my holiday in France!
One of the rather less nice things while travelling is getting sick. But sometimes I just gets to you. Sour throats, sunburn, migraines, toothaches, sun allergies, coughing, upset stomachs and constipation are some the things that made us visit the local pharmacy. Very helpful people who send us home with small plastic bags filled up with pills, drops, creams, lotions, syrops and gels. Day by day our house was starting to look like a hospital. It makes you think about what people did in the past when there was no pharmacist or doctor near by!
Well if you were living in the region of Burgundy you were rather lucky. In Beaune there was and still is the ‘hospice’. It is one of the highlights on your trip through the region. For the moment the front is still covered up for restorations. But don’t hesitate to pay the entrance fee because it worth the money!
Thanks to two people (Nicolas Rolin and his beloved wife Guigone de Salins) the inhabitants of Beaune had something nobody else had : a real hospital! I guess we all know what a hospital looks like. I have been to many and have tested out some them. But this is nothing like it! First of all the building itself. If it would be still a working hospital I guess many patients would turn into imaginary ill people. Your house looks like a shed compared to this monument. Oké I bet that the chances you would leave this place alive were rather small. This was the last stop before heading for heaven. All you could hope for was miracle once you ended up in one of their beds. Still this was a four star place compared to many hospices.
The food you got was prepared in very clean kitchen. The stove and sink I would kill for! The copper pots and pans were filled with many dishes that fed the poor and the ill. Hoping they would find the strength to recover of face death! Working in this kitchen was like having a workshop in Marta Stewaert’s kitchen. The best materials and ingredients were used. Many patients had a short moment of recovery when the smells came out of the kitchen!
Walking through the building makes you realize that these people were rather smart. In contrast to many medieval disasters they were the first to treat patients according to the care they really needed. Going into quaratain when needed and making sure that you took care of your hygiene were common treatments in the hospice. Healthy food, clean water, tons of herbs, loving nurses, trained pharmacists and a man in love with his wife made many ill people travelling to Beaune. He had the money and the power to make this place work. I just wonder if he got his hands really on one of these sick people who entered his house.
And there is always money that makes things a bit easier. Even at that time when you had the money you got a nicer and bigger room. Perhaps you were that lucky to get operated on. I am not kidding, they even had a small room where they performed rather complicated operations like trilling into the brain of cutting of hand or leg! Doubt that there was laughing gas or sleeping pills to pass out when lying there! The only thing that they could offer you was a look at one of the divine paintings. All you could do then was pray that you would make it to the end of the procedure!
But it were not just minor artists who were granted exhibition room in the hospice. Rolin made sure that he only got the best for himself and his patients. Proof can be found in the darkest room of the museum. There is hanging a big altar piece depicting the last judgement. It is said to be painted by one of the Flemish masters: Rogier Van der Weyden! Rolin was quite eager to stand model in paintings. Van Eyck also made a painting of him in the company of the holy virgin! While standing in front of that piece of art try to imagine that you were that sick and all you could hope for was granted eternal peace in heaven. Many dying patients used this painting to find the rest they were after so that they could find peace of mind. Palliative care in style so to speak!
By the time I got out of the museum I felt rather thankful. Now I am walking around with sun allergy, a sour throat and pain in the ears but I doubt if that would have been enough to be granted entrance at the time. So I will have to settle for a painkiller or two before going to bed and drinking an extra glass of wine. Now that I mention wine, even the hospice knew the importance of drinking grape juice! Every year Christy's comes to town in order to auction wine for extra funding. And I guess Rolin would feel quite well to know that up till today his spirit is still living on in the modern hospitals of Beaune. So from now on George Clooney and Patrick Duffy you will have to do a bit more then just wearing scrubs!
P.S.: If you want to find out more you can surf to: www.hospices-de-beaune.com