Map of Hôpital Notre-Dame à La Rose - LessinesLoad map
The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.
The Hospital of Our Lady with the Rose has been added to Belgium’s Tentative List earlier this year. The hospital of medieval origin is located in the Walloon town of Lessines, a municipality of 18,000 inhabitants best known as the birth place of painter René Magritte. I visited it on a stormy Saturday as a day trip by car from my home.
The site would become another addition to the Brussels Hotspot – it lies some 55 km south of the Belgian capital. The building is only open in the afternoon, from 14-18.30h, every day except Monday. As Zoe indicated in her review, there is parking right in front of it in a dead end street. However this was full when I arrived, so I ended up at a large (free) public parking just beyond the market square and within walking distance of the hospital. The hospital / museum complex has an informal restaurant on site, which opens already at 12. Entrance to the buildings / museum / gardens costs 13 EUR. French, English and Dutch are all spoken well by the reception staff and most information panels are in those 3 languages as well.
What is it about
The Hospital of Our Lady with the Rose was founded in the 13th century as a charity to accommodate the homeless and poor of the town. It formed a completely autarkic system: it had its own gardens, was a large regional landowner and handicrafts from the those living there were sold to generate income. The hospital was run by nuns and thus had a strongly religious approach. Most of the buildings that we can visit now were rebuilt in the 16th/17th century.
It may not yet be a well-known site globally (I had never heard of it before it became a TWHS), but it is a major attraction in Wallonia. There are huge signs advertising it already from the highway. The reception area is worthy of a popular museum and there is a museum shop as well. There were dozens of other visitors already present just after 2 pm.
After paying the entrance fee you receive an audio guide and can further explore the complex on your own. There seems to be no clear order in the route through the rooms and the rest of the complex, or maybe I took a wrong turn early on. The audio guide also is of no help – it does not tell a coherent story but enlightens individual elements and histories. So I just walked from room to room – there certainly are many of them. The hospital got wealthy due to the revenue from its farmlands and also from the dowries it received when a nun entered her religious life. There’s a lot of art and historic furniture to see, although none of it did really appeal to me.
Remarkable is the hospital room that opens up to the church, so that the patients could follow the service from their beds. There’s a small library as well, a pharmacy and a separate hospital room for when the nuns fell ill themselves. Worthwhile is a short visit to the adjacent garden with medicinal plants, also still in its original location.
So will this ever become a WHS? The tentative site description gives us two clues on which approach the Belgians aim to take: (1) the site in Lessines should become part of a serial transnational WHS, and (2) they state that hospitals are underrepresented on the current WH List. First I have no idea with which other sites they are trying to team up to create a transnational site. Paimio (a Finnish TWHS) and Zonnestraal (not even on the Dutch Tentative List anymore) are mentioned as comparisons, but although these buildings were used as health institutions they are more valued as representations of modern architecture.
And although the Belgians say hospitals are underrepresented, we count 68 of them in our 'Hospitals' connection already. Notable ones include Santa Maria della Scala in Siena (was one of Europe's first hospitals and is one of the oldest hospitals still surviving in the world), the Hôtel-Dieu de Paris (another candidate for the oldest worldwide still operating hospital), the Hospices de Beaune in Burgundy (a very similar site to the one in Lessines, one that I found prettier and less museum-ish), the San Juan de Dios Hospital in Mompox (founded in 1550 and considered to be oldest hospital in America still functioning in its original building) and the Divrigi Mosque & Hospital. I doubt that The Hospital of Our Lady with the Rose is seen as equal to those prominent examples on its own merits – Wiki’s elaborate History of Hospitals makes no mention of it for example.
Read more from Els Slots here.
Hôpital Notre-Dame à la Rose claims to be the oldest hospital in Europe. The only Wikipedia article is in Dutch for some reason when though the town of Lessines is in Wallonia. Superlatives don't always get you on the list and I think there needs to be more. It is more of a church-like hospital anyway, I often felt that I'm in a church altogether. The windows are beautiful, the architecture is great, from the outside you wouldn't think it is a hospital (a modern hospital is around the corner to compare).
Inside most is a museum with display cases and an art gallery. You get plenty to see and it's worth the money but I highly recommend the audio guide. The only issue with the site I have are the weird opening hours from 14:00-18:30 (last entry at 17:45!) and naturally closed on Mondays.
Pro tip: There is parking inside the alley so try there first before driving up the hill
2019 Added to Tentative List
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