The main building
The hospital in the Middle Ages must have been L-shaped, situated along the Dendre river and comprising the present-day East wing and a part of the South wing. Building work began in 1243 and was probably finished in about 1260.
Today’s building, which form a harmonious quadrilateral around the cloister and its small garden, do net hterefore go back to the Middle Ages. They were actually converted and extended between the 16th and the 18th century by priors, often from noble or middle-class backgrounds, who followed one another at the head of the hospital. The main facade, finished in 1664, underwent the baroque influence. The chapel and the sick ward were rebuilt at the beginning of the 18th century.
The farm, which used to feed the nuns and the sick, kept going until the beginning of the nineteen nineties. The mill, driven by the waters of the Dendre, meant that the hospital was self-sufficient and even more so because of the icehouse where a part of the garden produce could be preserved. The garden, where medicinal herbs were grown, allowed the dispensary to produce herbal remedies.
All of the structures of the hospital of Lessines rebuilt since the beginning of the 16th century have remained intact; the hospital has kept its furniture, its works of art and its records: it is an exceptional place of interest for the history of hospitals and of architecture in Europe.
The garden is also the spot to admire the belfry of the chapel, on the South side, which marks the arrival of the Baroque style. It is an elegant bell tower made of a slated structure, which emerges from the ridge of a square base surmounted by an open-work upper part with a ballustrade, then a tapered spire which soars towards a gilded cupola. This baroque pinnacle, supporting the cross and the cock, indicates the limit of the chapel, pointing Eastwards.
A bridge across the Dendre from the hospital provides testimony to the existence of the farm since the 13th century; although rebuilt, it still exists today. The farm buildings were rebuilt about 1525 by Marguerite de Baudrenghien; burnt down in 1575, they were rebuilt by Sister Sergeant and completed by the prioress Herwecq in 1609.
In 1834, the barn was rebuilt to which an octogonal chapel was added, and lastly, in 1866 new sickrooms replaced the sheep pens located to the South, dating back to the 16th century.
The patients’ yard
Walking through the gate, you enter the patients’ yard where you will find the ‘Spanish’ building, perpendicular to the chapel and the sickroom. The ‘Spanish’ building has a colonade, composed of 9 stone arcades falling back onto Tuscans columns. This is the place where many French and Spanish soldiers wounded during the wars of Louis XIV, were cared for by the nuns.
The garden and the icehouse
Opposite, behind the high wall of whitewashed bricks, you will discover the enclosed garden, a former cemetery of the nuns, reconverted into a vegerable garden where a few funeral stones still lie.
The remains of the old distillery are also to be found in the garden, at the southwest corner. It also dates back from the 18th century. Just nearby, a raised small garden shelters a large icehouse under a thick foliage. This 19th century brickworks structure is perfectly preserved. The ice sawn from the Dendre during the winter was stored here in such quantities that over a metre of it could still be found the following August. It was used for compresses, refleshing drinks, preserving meat and was still in operation during the First World War.
Right in the heart of the town, what a haven of peace, sheltered from the hustle and bustle of the outside world! Only the songs of the birds could be heard and the murmur of the nuns saying their prayers.
Today, the hospital is shaped like a large quadrilateral. In the 13th century, it only comprised two wings: the main East wing, composed of a few houses along the Dendre purchased by Alix de Rosoit for the foundation and which were to become the kitchen, the refectory, the nun’s ustairs dormitory, and a room called “l’escole”, which must have been the noviciate; the single-storeyed, Souts wing, perpendicular to the main wing, used to house the sickroom and the chapel in its extension. There are no visible traces of the early structure but the wooden foundations remain under the buildings running alongside the Dendre.
The North and West wings were only added in the 17th century, on the initiative of the prioress Jeanne Duquesne.
The cloister was completed at the beginning of the 18th century, connecting all the rooms where the nuns had something to do.
An outstanding feature is that this structure spread over two centuryies respected the early style of the beginning of the 16th century. The Flemish Renaissance style gives a homogeneous character and an authenticity to the whole block.
The mill was located along the Dendre, nearby the hospital. You can also see a watering place for horses, on the left bank of the river. The mill disapeared in the seventies when the riverline was straightened.