I can still feel the chilly breeze on my cheeks that May morning we visited Hotel Dieu, in Beune, France. The French word ‘hotel’ has roots in the Latin ‘hospes,’ meaning ‘a place of caring for a stranger.’ Our word, ‘hospitality.’
In 1443, Nicolas Rolin, a wealthy ‘old man’ of 47, and his third wife, the 18 year old Guigone de Salins, built Hotel Dieu, or the House of God. The people of the area were destitute and suffering from the plague, a contagious illness that had no cure.
On the tour we heard that Nicolas built Hotel Dieu as an act of Christian charity. His wife, Guigone, was the heart of the work. An educated noblewoman, she furnished the rooms of the hospital with art because she believed healing the body was inseparable from healing the spirit. The motto Nicolas had inscribed on floor tiles and walls, “Seulle,” as a tribute to his wife, means ‘only her.”
After Nicolas died, Guigone joined the order she and her husband established at Hotel Dieu, “Les sœurs hospitalières de Beaune”, serving the destitute there until she died in 1470. The mission continued until the 1970s.
The furnishings we saw in The Room of the Poor, above, date from the 19th century, when each bed held two patients! The chapel sits in the same space, through the wooden gothic arch, so the bedridden could still attend Mass.
In 2020 with a new plague afflicting us, I remember our visit to Hotel Dieu. Through the centuries, Jesus’ followers are the courageous caregivers serving the sick, poor and needy.
“Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?”
And Jesus will say, “I tell you the truth, when you did it to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” Matthew 25:38-40