Sunday, June 25, 2017

Matthew 10.40-42: About Hotels and Hospitals

Whoever welcomes you welcomes me...[And] whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple -- truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward. Those are the words of the Gospel reading for Proper 8 (13)/Pentecost 4A (Matthew 10:40-42). Welcome and even a cup of cold water are as much issues today as they were the day Jesus said the words. How should we care for one another and respond to one another's needs? History gives us an answer (and perhaps a challenge) in the hotel-Dieu, which literally means hostel of God and was a generic name for hospitals in French-speaking regions.

Yes, hospitals. Think of today's conversations about health care, hospitals and costs. Do those conversations make you think of hostels? Of hospitality? Clearly hospital and hospitality share a root. That root is in the word host, which is itself rooted in the Proto-Indo-European ghos-ti (stranger, guest, host...a person with whom you had reciprocal requirements for hospitality). This relationship moves through the words hostel to the Old French hospital (shelter for the needy), the Latin hospitale (guest house, inn) on to hospitality. It isn't exactly what we think of today when we think of hospitals. 

In medieval Europe the idea of the hotel-Dieu took on the meaning of a charitable institution that cared for the needy, both in terms of daily food and a place to stay along with health care. Hotels-Dieu were built and sustained in many places, though the quality of care no doubt differed from place to place. 

In 1443, Europe was just coming out of the Hundred Years War in which plague and deprivation were the order of the day. In Beaune, a city in the Burgundy region of France, Nicolas Rolin, Chancellor of Duke Phillip the Good, established a hotel-Dieu that remains one of the most beautiful buildings in France. A combination homeless shelter, soup kitchen and health clinic, the physical plant of the Hospices de Beaune included two buildings around a courtyard. One of the most distinctive elements of the complex is the multi-colored roof. 
Hotel-Dieu, Beaune, France. c. 1450. For additional information, see:
The large room with a boat-inspired roof is called the Room of the Poor(s). The furniture in the photo below was added in the last quarter of the 19th century. In medieval times, the beds would not have had the wooden compartments. Plain beds would have lined the walls of the room. The complex includes large kitchens and a pharmacy, all of which were established to meet the needs of the hotel's clients. In addition to the hospital, Rolin also established a religious order of sisters who staffed the facility.
Nicolas Rolin created the Beaune hotel-Dieu with an eye toward the finest architecture and art. Masterpieces by Rogier van der Weyden hung on the walls. Sculpted beams and hand-crafted floor tiles adorned the Room of the Poor. At the end of the Room of the Poor was the chapel so that infirm patients could attend mass from their beds.

Few of us would be happy to exchange 21st-century medical care for 15th-century care. Or 21st-century hygiene for that of the 15th century. However, the name and purpose of this and other hotels-Dieu might be aspirational for us as we consider issues of welcome and care of all God's people.

No comments:

Post a Comment