It’s a hub of the wine trade, auctions still take place by burning candle, festering, mildewed bottles sell for vast sums at the local Christie’s auction house and you can buy a bottle of 1991 Montrachet for 950 euros in local restaurants.
But, returning to the Burgundian dukes. The auction house is in the Hôtel-Dieu with its beautifully crenellated roof which was founded on 4 August 1443, when Burgundy was ruled by Duke Philip the Good, who was, it seemed, a good mate of the Pope. The Hundred Years War had recently been brought to a close by the signing of the Treaty of Arras in 1435. Mahyem and massacres, however, continued with marauding bands (“écorcheurs”) still roaming the countryside, pillaging and destroying, causing misery, hardship and famine. Life in those days could well be described in the words of Thomas Hobbes two hundred years later as ‘nasty, brutish and short’. The majority of the people of Beaune were declared destitute. The building of the Hôtel-Dieu as a hospital and refuge for the poor served two purposes – to ameliorate the appalling suffering the bastard English had inflicted during the war and, as a trifling incidental, buy the Duke’s way into heaven with indulgences.
The Hospices de Beaune received their first patient on 1 January 1452 and looked very much like this – the ‘Room of the Poors’. Elderly, disabled and sick people, orphans, women about to give birth and the destitute have all been uninterruptedly welcomed for treatment and refuge, from the Middle Ages almost until the present day. The chapel is conveniently part of the building lest the ministrations of the carers proved insufficient and the patient expired, which judging by the surgical instruments on show in the museum, happened rather more frequently than not.
The Duke appears on the left with other luminaries in Rogier Weyden’s majestic polytych on the Last Judgement.. The saved are escorted into paradise on the left, while the damned are hurled into the abyss on the right.