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Beaune’s Medieval Hospital (3:22)

Beaune, France

Beaune’s Hôtel Dieu, a medieval charity hospital, is famous for its colorfully patterned tile roof and for its art, particularly Roger van der Weyden's exquisite Last Judgment. The museum also displays crude-looking medical tools from the period.

Complete Video Script

While Beaune's real charm is the colorful town itself, it does have one must-see sight, its Hospice de Beaune — a medieval charity hospital.

Six centuries ago Beaune was devastated by two terrible events: The great Plague and the Hundred Years War — a drawn out battle between France and England that embroiled all of Burgundy. In the early 1400s, three-quarters of Beaune's population was destitute. Amid all this squalor, the Dukes' right-hand man, Nicholas Rolin grew filthy rich because he could tax the people. concerned about the destiny of his own soul, Rolin attempted to buy a ticket to heaven by building this Palace for the Poor. It was completed in just eight years.

The colorful glazed tile roof established what became a style recognized as typically "Burgundian." The tiles, which last 300 years, are fired three times: once to harden, then to burn in the color, and finally for the glaze.

This largest room was the ward for the poorest patients. Rolin, who believed every patient deserved dignity, provided each with a pewter jug, mug, bowl, and plate.

The hospice was not a place of hope. People came here to die. Care was more for the soul than the body. The far end of the ward was a chapel. Patients could attend Mass while in bed. And also from their beds they could ponder the powerful symbolism of a painting that stood upon the altar — now displayed in an adjacent room.

In Roger van der Weyden's exquisite painting of the Last Judgment, Jesus presides over Judgment Day flanked by the lily of mercy and the sword of judgment. The rainbow promises salvation, and the jeweled globe at Christ ' feet symbolizes the universality of Christianity's message. As four angels blow their trumpets to wake the dead, Michael the archangel — very much in control — determines which souls are heavy with sin. Mary and the apostles pray for the souls of the dead as they emerge from their graves. But notice how both Michael and Jesus are expressionless — at this point, the cries of the damned and their loved ones are useless. The intricate detail is typical of Flemish art in the 15th century.

Study the faces of the damned; you can almost hear the screams and gnashing of teeth.

This smaller ward was for wealthy patients. Since they were more likely to get the best available treatment, they were more likely to survive. Tools of the trade looked like a carpenter's kit — amputation saws, pans for blood-letting, and syringes… delicate as caulking guns. The decor in this room portrays themes of hope. A series of Baroque paintings show the biblical miracles that Jesus performed. Patients filled these beds as late as 1982.