Hôpital Saint-Jacques-aux-Pélerins

Women made their marks on the landscape of Paris by lending their celebrity (and often contributed funds) at the time of building or dedicating charitable institutions. This was the case on February 18, 1319, when Jeanne de Bourgogne et Artois, as queen of France and wife of Philippe V, laid the first stone for the foundation of the new Hôpital Saint-Jacques-aux-Pèlerins, built on lands donated by her mother Mahaut d’Artois from the precinct of her immediately adjacent Hôtel d’Artois (a later version of which still stands today) to accommodate pilgrims on their way to or from Santiago de Compostela and to provide a place to meet and worship for the local Confrèrie dedicated to Saint Jacques. During the dedication, Queen Jeanne was surrounded by her mother, Mahaut d’Artois, and three of Jeanne’s four daughters and some accounts say each one in turn laid an additional stone. Other founders and confrères of the hospital, as well as members of the court, and many citizens of Paris were equally in attendance. As the building continued to emerge stone by stone over the next four years, the same matriarchal lineage that had been emphasized through the foundation ceremony appeared sculpted on the tympanum above the main portal–the five women, accompanied by Jeanne’s fourth daughter, now kneeling in a group before the images of the patron saint, Jacques, and his “brother,” Christ.

Included in the list of commissions for the hospital was a panel recording the foundation ceremony. The location of the hospital on the main processional route in Paris–witness to the constant circulation of holy reliquaries, the arrival and departure of pilgrims, the triumphal entrées of kings and queens fresh from battle or their coronation rites, the visits of illustrious guests, and the funerals of its rulers–could certainly have been the motivation behind including a relief that celebrates its own historical birth as part of its decorative program. The image froze in time for all who passed by the site the dramatic moment when the queen of France began the building process, closely surrounded by the confrères, accompanied by music, poems, and dits composed in honor of and about the queen and her companions. Thus, Jeanne is depicted twice, once as pious patron, kneeling timelessly in the center of her female lineage, and in the second as part of the seminal moment in the history of the building. By commissioning and placing images of herself and her female relatives on such a visible building in Paris, women like Jeanne de Bourgogne could increase their visibility within the landscape.

Present-day location: 111 Rue Saint Denis