Hospices de Beaune founder’s tomb re-discovered

The tomb and remains of Nicolas Rolin, the founder of the Hospices de Beaune, have apparently been re-discovered in Autun.

A portrait of Nicolas Rolin by Jan van Eyck.

Excavations around Autun’s cathedral last month have led to the discovery of over 200 burials, some dating back to the Gallo-Roman period, but among them was the sepulchre of Rolin which has been lost since the 18th century.

Rolin was the chancellor of Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy for 40 years in the 15th century. Spectacularly wealthy, he and his wife, Guigone de Salins, founded the Hospices de Beaune in 1443 and endowed it with its first vineyard holdings.

He also commissioned the Flemish master Rogier van der Weyden to paint the famous triptych altarpiece ‘The Last Judgement’.

Born and raised in Autun, he was buried there when he died in 1462 but his tomb was lost in 1793 when the small church adjacent to the cathedral in which it was located was torn down – very likely as a result of the French Revolution when many religious institutions were vandalised.

Local archaeologists following an 18th century sketch of the old church, however, were able to locate numerous tombs once contained within it.

Lead archaeologist, Yannick Labaune, explained that they found one tomb in the old choir which contained the bones of at least eight people.

Among the remains though was a golden spur which matches a medieval description of the garments in which Rolin was buried. Coupled with the old indications of where his tomb was inside the church, the team “strongly” believe his bones and burial site have been re-discovered.

“We’ve found strong indications that enable us to say we have found his grave,” said Labaune. “The bones will be analysed by an anthropologist and the spur will be presented to the museum that bears his name [La Musée Rolin located in the chancellor’s old family home in Autun].”

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