I’ve lived in four countries and visited nearly fifty others. In all my travels, nothing has impressed me the way the Hospices de Beaune, also known at the Hotel Dieu, did.
In the mid-1400s, when Burgundy was ruled by Duke Philip the Good, Nicolas Rolin, the Duke’s Chancellor, and his wife, Guigone de Salins, created a magnificent hospital for the poor. It is one of the finest examples of human kindness I have ever seen, all the more remarkable because it was started nearly 600 years ago. It has a history in which the very wealthy recognized that poor people are also human and should be treated respectfully and lovingly. The Hotel Dieu, nicknamed 'Palace of the Poor,' was endowed with vineyards and salt works to help it become self-sufficient. It functioned as a hospital until 1971 and is now a nursing home. Over the centuries the hospital's land holdings grew to 152 acres of vineyards in Burgundy, one of the finest wine regions in the world.
Their annual wine auction is one of the world’s most famous charity events, with proceeds going towards the purchase of modern medical equipment and improvements, to “reach out to those who live on the margins of our society.” The next wine auction will be on Sunday, November 15, 2009 if you wish to participate.
Here’s to you, Nicolas Rolin, Guigone de Salins, the Sisters of the Hospices de Beaune and all those who have carried on their good work over the past 600 years! You have created a place and philosophy of beauty that remains remarkable–and inspiring–in our world today.
The old part of the hospital is now a museum. The beds have been restored and it is clear to see the humanity in the beauty and the design of the old wards.
Each bed has beautiful red drapes and blankets to keep the patients warm, a shelf for the patient’s belongings, a bedside table and a bedside chair for visitors.
The museum has a priceless collection of old tapestries on display.
I highly recommend going out of your way to visit this serene and inspiring place. It is open every day. It can change your life.