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Saint Vincent's Reading List XXXIII: The Poor and the General Hospital of Paris

by Rev Edward R Udovic CM 9/24/2012 9:50:00 AM

L'Hospital General de Paris. Paris: François Muguet, 1676.

Call Number: SpC. 362.110944 H8284m1676

A full-text version of this volume may be viewed here.


In 17th-century Paris everyone was aware of the great increase in the number of poor people. This increase overwhelmed the institutions and resources that had been devoted to poor relief.  Vincent de Paul tried carefully calculated experiments to create new forms of institutionalized assistance with the resources, personnel, organization and ongoing assessment that would make these efforts sustainable.

The Hospital General de Paris, or Salpetriere, in the 18th century.
In 1653 Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac had opened the Hospice du Nom de Jésus to serve the abandoned elderly.  The success of this institutional model inspired the Ladies of Charity, (including the Duchesse d’Aiguillon,) and the Company of the Blessed Sacrament to propose a very ambitious plan to create a great Hôpital Général in Paris. The new hospital system would re-organize a number of existing institutions under one umbrella. The state for its part would renew its attempts to outlaw begging and to direct (forcibly if necessary) the poor to these new institutions.

Vincent de Paul was uncomfortable with a number of the proposal’s aspects.  He thought its planning was much too rushed.  He was troubled that poor refugees from the war-torn provinces would be excluded from assistance.  He successfully lobbied against this provision.

Much to Vincent’s surprise the royal proclamation establishing the Hôpital Général announced that the Lazarists would provide chaplains for all the hospital’s various institutions.  However, the Congregation of the Mission simply could not provide the number of chaplains envisaged without compromising its other works.  At the last minute, Vincent uncharacteristically declined the royal foundation.  He convinced one of the members of the Tuesday Conferences, Louis Abelly, to serve at the hospital’s first Rector and he worked to quickly recruit the needed chaplains from among the secular clergy. The Ladies of Charity, however, were able to commit to supporting the various institutions of the hospital, which despite a bumpy beginning had some success in meeting the needs of the Parisian poor.
The present volume, published in 1676 after Vincent’s death, lays out the organizational structure and rules that governed the mature Hôpital Général in Paris.

The present volume, published in 1676 after Vincent’s death, lays out the organizational structure and rules that governed the mature Hôpital Général in Paris. 



St. Vincent’s Reading List is a recurring blog series exploring texts known to have been read and recommended by Saint Vincent de Paul, those which can be presumed to have been read by him, and  works published during his lifetime (1581-1660) illustrating his world. All materials discussed are held by DePaul University’s Richardson Library. The entire series may be viewed here.


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