Today we started off by visiting Beaune’s most popular site, the medieval hospitals. Afterwards, we traveled west to the town of Autun to visit the Musée Rolin and the Cathedral of Saint Lazare.
Hospices de Beaune
The Hospices de Beaune, or Hotel Dieu served as a hospital for the poor in the 15th century. Now, it’s been furnished into a museum which houses old medical instruments used in the hospital, and the art that was commissioned for it.
When we entered the hospices, the most striking feature to me was the multicolored mosaic-tiled roof. These beautiful geometric patterns are created by arranging colored ceramic tiles to act as shingles for the roof. After spotting more roofs like this throughout the day, I learned that these mosaic roofs are a staple of Burgundian art in architecture.
The first room we visited held the Hotel Dieu held the most prized piece of art: The Last Judgement altarpiece by Van Der Weyden. When the altarpiece is folded up (as it would have been for most of the year), It shows an ordinary looking painting of two commissioners praying to some statues. This is a pretty heavy contrast to the image revealed when the altarpiece is opened during feast days (as it is displayed in the museum). The scene is absolute chaos, with Jesus at the top and the angel Gabriel at the bottom, with his scale for weighing souls. The real crazy part, though, is the mass of people crawling out of the ground with their hands in the air while begging for forgiveness. On the left side, people are being guided to heaven, while on the right side, these unfortunate souls are being gobbled up by demons. Absolutely horrifying. The museum even has a movable magnifying glass so that you can see parts of the altarpiece in detail.
Personally, I don’t think sick people should be exposed to something this gruesome, but the point of the altarpiece was supposedly to scare people on their deathbeds into changing their ways. If I were a patient here, I sure would be scared into repentance, if I didn’t die from the stress first!
Next we filed in to the treatment room, where beds with pretty red curtains lined the walls leading up to an altar used for church services. The beds actually looked really comfy, and I was a little jealous until I saw the peeing-can that would have sat next to the bed. The treatment room has a high, raftered ceiling, with beautiful detailing and dragons painted onto the wooden beams. Again, if I was in a fever-induced delirium, I think they would have been terrifying.
The final room was full of medical instruments that had been used at the hospices. Some looked familiar, and some looked especially uncomfortable. Rather than telling you about them, I’ll just show you 😉
Getting to Autun
Autun is a commune about 1 hour west of Beaune. It’s a place absolutely flooded with history- whether you like ancient roman walls, temples, pyramids, or cathedrals, this place has it all!
Like the other communes we’ve visited, there were hardly any other people there in October, and so we had no problems getting around Autun.
The Musée Rolin, or Rolin Museum is a little museum which holds artifacts from Autun that date anywhere from ancient roman times to the renaissance.
The artifact that we’d come to see was a lintil sculpture of Eve from the 12th century, though it’s a miracle she even survived the French revolution. She’s lying horizontally in a bed of vines and reaching for the apple. There are conspiracy theories about a clump of vines near her foot that look like a devil’s claw reaching towards her, and so people believe that the sculpture is just full of hidden meaning.
After looking at Eve, we had a few minutes to wander through the rest of the museum, which to me, is pretty much a blur of stone sculpture and mosaic fragments.
For more info on pricing and operating hours at the Musée Rolin, click here!
The Cathedral of Saint Lazare
Just like the other french communes we’ve visited (Chartres and Vézelay) , Autun appears to have been built around a massive, castle-looking cathedral. With the chilly mist surrounding the whole town, the Cathedral of Saint Lazare reminded me of the Beast’s castle in Beauty and the Beast.
What makes this cathedral different from the other one’s I’ve visited in France is that it has the trademark Burgundian mosaic roofing, though this one is especially gorgeous! Even in the gloomy weather, you can still see the blue, green, and yellow-gold tiles shining through, creating a kind of chevron pattern.
Inside the church, it’s a fairly ordinary Romanesque setup. One standout though, are the capitals lining the aisles. They’re delicately carved to depict all sorts of hyperbolic biblical scenes, many of which includes hoards of demons. I still can’t figure out France’s penchant for putting demons in and on churches.
The Tower of Autun’s Capitals
One of the towers at the cathedral holds a lot of these unique capitals. Interestingly enough, not all of the ones they’ve collected from Autun’s past are religious. One of the biggest capitals depict a 3-headed bird, a mythical creature whose legends date back to the middle ages.
Another noteworthy capital is actually a series, one of which shows Judas being hung from a tree by… you’ll never guess… the demons.
Our Last Dinner in France
Since it was our very last day in France, we had a very special group dinner! It was maybe one of the nicest restaurant’s I’ve ever been in, and our tables were actually in the wine cellar! Rounded ceiling and everything!
There were so many little courses throughout the meal, I think most of them were appetizers, and each course included a different wine pairing. The glasses were huge compared to the small pours of wine, but that was definitely because we were expected to use our swirl-and-sip technique that we learned at the wine tour yesterday.
I feel like an idiot for not writing down what each course was, but I do remember escargot being an appetizer and a cheese plate for the desert. You know it’s fancy when they serve cheese for dessert!
Having been absolutely spoiled by french food and wine, I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to go back. Luckily, we’re headed to Italy next, so I’d guess that the divine food will continue 🙂
Visiting the Hospices de Beaune was probably my favorite class trip yet!
The fact that it was a hospital made it all the more cool, and was a refreshing change from all the art and abbey museums we’ve been visiting. If you go, I’d recommend visiting on a Saturday because it’s in the same part of town as the Saturday market.
Autun was also a great little town to visit. I’m glad to have seen the museum and cathedral because the stone and sculpture work here is just so cool. Although I do wish we’d had more time to spend here to see some of the ancient roman sites as well.
I’m feeling pretty sentimental about having to leave France since this last week has just flown by!
France was everything I hoped it would be and more. The food was delicious, and the sights in Paris and Burgundy were so different but equally incredible. It was also nice to see the small towns of Chartres, Vézelay, Dijon, and Autun along the way while driving between the two bigger cites of Paris and Beaune.
We managed to see a lot of France in just 8 days, but our time here was so nice that I can’t wait to come back and see more! Maybe the west coast and the riviera for next time? 😉
Getting back to the present- France has set a great start to my travels on continental Europe, and I’m excited to visit a new country and stumble my way through learning a new language. Tomorrow we fly from Lyon to Rome, so see you then!