The Hotel Dieu

  Saturday, May 30, 2015 / Stephanie / Exploration  

We first visited a Hotel Dieu during our stopover in Belleville, as we travelled through Burgundy we visited several of these interesting historical sites.  In Belleville the interior of the Hotel Dieu was immaculately clean and the decor stunning, however this is not the type of hotel we'd choose for an overnight stay.  The first Hotel Dieu was built in the city of Beaune during 1443 by the Chancellor of the Duke of Burgundy.  At that time, this region of Burgundy was atually France's most powerful rival, its borders extending into modern day Netherlands.  The Hotel Dieu, "House of God," was intended to be a hospital for the poor.  The Hundred Years War had not yet ended and the city of Beaune was suffering illness, famine, and despair.  The Chancellor funded the Hotel Dieu, which received a great reputation among nobles whose donations were used to embellish the building.  In  1452, the Hotel Dieu accepted its first patients under the care of the Sisters of the Hospices of Beaune.  Thus, a hospital was born.The Hotel Dieu became wildly popular during the 17th century, having extended southward from Beaune several were built and Sisters were sent from Beaune to care for ill, elderly, and poor patients.  At that time, the Duchy of Burgundy was now ruled by governers appointed by the King of France.  The nobles continued to donate to the Hotel Dieus, however it became the Sisters who were the primary contributors to the hospitals.  Sisters' finances were reviewed prior to placement; they could not be dependent on the Hotel Dieu and often contributed large sums of money and/or valuable furniture upon their placement. The Hotel Dieu of Belleville opened in 1733 with 14 available beds.  The Hotel Dieu of Belleville had been expanded through the 19th century, including the addition of a private chapel for the Sisters (there was a central alter for patients). At Belleville, the Sisters of the Hotel Dieu continued to maintain the hospital care for the then, elderly residents until 1991.  It is now a well preserved historical site.  The hospitals were designed with high ceilings, large windows, and wide wards with the idea that the circulation of open air would promote healing.  Rows of beds were accessible by the Sisters from behind via a doorway in each bed and privacy alotted at the front, common area by closing the curtains of each bed.  The wards were incredibly difficult to heat; one stove in the center of the room was exhausted under the floor to a chimney at the ward's end.  Bed warmers and hot water bottles were used, at times during full capacity an additional patient in the bed may have added some body heat. Open air, close proximity of germs and drafty cannot even conceive of some of the "medical" ideas of the time.  During the 17th century, blood-letting was a popular remedy.  Leeches became a technological advancement as they were a more controlled method to extract blood.  Enemas were another frequent remedy.  Also at that time, dentists took on a rather extravagent role being trailed by an entourage of drummers and musicians to drown the sounds of the yelling patient while teeth were extracted.  In spite of the ailments and tortuous treatments, the paitents were kept well fed, including wine daily; they were in-fact poor and thus typically malnourished upon arrival. The Hotel Dieu of Tournus, also built during the 17th century, contained three wards for men, women, and soldiers.  There was a chapel for the Sisters and a central alter for the patients. The Hotel Dieu of Tournus has a completely intact, beautifully preserved pharmacy.  The woodwork is astounding!  The glass and ceramic containers look as though new.  Above the tiled floor, the wooden ceiling is magnificently painted; a recent discovery within the museum. The Hotel Dieu of Tournus has an extensive collection of peweter crockery, as well as pewter medicial instruments.  Pewter was an easily malleable metal that could be melted down and reused as items aged; it also contains lead, which as we now know may not have aided the healing process.  In the back courtyard, a medicinal garden. In the town of Macon, we located L'Ancien Hospice de la Charite.  Presently the building is a senior living home; although the front facade looks quite delapedated so I'm assuming there is another entrance for the senior living home.  The interesting feature that brought us in search of this particular hospital is the still intact, barrel swivel-gate to the right of the entrance.  The purpose of the swivel-gate was a means to abandon babies; to leave a baby unseen in the barrel, once swiveled a bell would alert the Sisters inside who would retrieve the baby to take it into their care.  Try as we might, neither Giraffe nor I could not get the gate to turn.