A hospital foundation from the Middle Ages, the Hospices de Beaune is one of France’s most prestigious historic monuments. Its flamboyant Gothic architecture, its polychrome roofs and a renowned vineyard make this museum one of Burgundy’s gems. The Hospices de Beaune is also famous for its 60 hectares wine estate, producing prestigious wines, sold at auction on the third Sunday in November.
The Hôtel-Dieu was founded on 4 August 1443, when Burgundy was ruled by Duke Philippe le Bon (Philip the Good). The Hundred Years’ War had recently been brought to a close by the signing of the Treaty of Arras in 1435.
Massacres, however, continued with marauding bands still roaming the countryside, pillaging and destroying, provoking misery and famine. The majority of the people of Beaune were declared destitute. Nicolas Rolin, the Duke’s Chancellor, and his wife Guigone de Salins, responded by building a hospital and refuge for the poor. The majority of the population of Beaune were destitute, and the area had recently suffered an outbreak of plague. Having gained permission from Pope Eugene IV in 1441, the hospice was built and consecrated on 31 December 1452. In conjunction, Rolin established the “Les sœurs hospitalières de Beaune” religious order.
The building’s design was probably overseen by the Flemish architect Jacques Wiscrère and remained as a hospital until the late 1970s. There is a documentary record of a large range of Flemish and French masons, painters and glass cutters employed for its construction. The facade is today regarded as a superior example of Northern Renaissance civic architecture and a treasure trove of panel painting, given its numerous portraits of Rolin, his wife and members of his extended family.
The Hospices de Beaune consists of a pair of two-storied buildings arranged around a stone courtyard. The building wings are well-preserved today; they contain half-timber galleries and ornate rooftops with dormer windows. 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 Hospices de Beaune received the first patient on 1 January 1452. Elderly, disabled and sick people, with orphans, women about to give birth and the destitute have all been uninterruptedly welcomed for treatment and refuge from the Middle Ages until today. This Catholic institution focused on healing both the body and spirit of its patients.
Over the centuries, the hospital radiated outwards, grouping with similar establishments in the surrounding villages of Pommard, Nolay, Meursault. Many donations, farms, property, woods, works of art and of course vineyards, were made to it, by grateful families and generous benefactors. The institution is one of the best and oldest examples of historical, philanthropic, and wine-producing heritage, and has become linked with the economic and cultural life of Burgundy.
The charity auction been arranged annually since 1859, taking place on the third Sunday in November amid a three-day festival devoted to the food and wines of Burgundy called Les Trois Glorieuses. The charity is preceded by a black tie dinner at the Clos de Vougeot on day one and followed by the lunch La Paulée de Meursault on day three. The Domaine des Hospices de Beaune is a non-profit organisation which owns around 61 hectares (150 acres) of donated vineyard land, much of this classified Grand and Premier cru. With bidding by professional and private buyers, the barrels, from 31 cuvées of red wine and 13 of white wine, attain prices usually well in excess of the current commercial values, although the results give some indication of the trend in expected bulk wine prices for the vintage from the rest of the region.
The auction has been organised by Christie’s since 2005, setting a record total figure at the 149th auction in 2009 when 799 barrels were up for sale, and 40% bids by telephone, internet or fax connecting some 500 participants from around the world, the auction has in recent years evolved from a wholesale market to a retail market.
Beside the Hospices, Beaune is a lovely small city and you shall find great Hotels and tremondous Restaurants. See my post about Loiseau des Vignes…