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Little histories about Lyon hôtel-Dieu

The hospital | Phinou / CC-BY-SA
General hospital François Rabelais Lyon hôtel-Dieu

A hospital and its bridge

The first hospital in Lyon probably dates back to the 12th century.

Its history is closely linked to the Guillotière bridge, because those who raised it, pontiff monks, also raised a small hospital nearby. Pontiff means... "monks who raise bridges"!

The little hospice soon became the "General hospital of Our-Lady of the bridge". At that time, we found, with the hospital, a fustaria, a place where they put woods; a granateria, a cereal stock house; several chapels and a chaplaincy, elemosinaria.

Then in the beginning of the 13th century, archbishop of Lyon Renaud de Forez linked this chaplaincy to the hospital... a chaplaincy where poor people took shelter.

But our monks were very poor, too! Even the hospital grew poorer, they could no longer welcome sick people...

And the bridge wasn’t finished! They needed money for that. So archbishop Guillaume de Sure decided to put city mayors in charge of the hospital's management.

At that time too, a strange thing happened: lots of prostitutes gave up with their dissolute lives! In order to prevent them from falling back, they hired them as nurses in the hospital, "penitent ladies"!

In 1523, we had 16 penitent ladies, a priest, a barber, few domestics, a gardener, 9 children and about 90 sick people. Then an apothecary and a doctor: even writer François Rabelais, who presided here between 1532 and 1534!

From the 18th century to nowadays

In the middle of the 17th century, they completely transformed the place: the small dome was raised in 1623, with its 4 turrets; a courtyard; a cloister; 4 rooms.

In 1637, architect Ducillet began the chapel, based on plans by Jean Mimerel, dedicated in 1645...

The façade was finished only in 1706. In the middle of the 18th century, problem! Buildings were too small, so they decided to extend the hospital.

Architect Jacques-Germain Soufflot began the building site in 1737. In 1756, the construction of the huge dome began. Well, it was huge!

Soufflot, who designed it, was called in Paris on the Panthéon building site: so he put a man called Loyer in charge of the construction... Oooo, the naughty Loyer changed Soufflot's plans! The dome would be smaller... the legend says Soufflot, when he heard that, wept for disappointment!

Meanwhile, when the French Revolution came, the building site wasn’t completed. In 1793, the church and its dome were badly damaged by canons shots, during the city siege.

A terrible time: doctors and students were guillotined... Finally, architect Cristot raised the current façade in 1839.

You know what? Under the dome used to be a famous crocodile, found in river Rhône in 1745, near the Guillotière bridge!

About the the author

I'm fond of strolls and History, with juicy and spicy details!