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Established 1641
Current Status Preserved
Building Style Single Building
Location Saint-Maurice, Val-de-Marne, France
Alternate Names
  • Esquirol Hospital


Documents concerning the origins of la Maison de Charenton show that its creation and opening date back to 1641/1645. It was created under the name of "Home of Charenton Saint Maurice " and was run by Brothers who were members of the charitable order of Saint Jean de Dieu. On September 13th 1641, Sébastien Leblanc who was a councellor and war controller of Louis XIII donated some houses and land situated on the parish of Charenton Saint Maurice to the Brothers who had to settle there and to cater for poor people with a illness in a home comprising five beds and named Charité Notre Dame de la Paix.

The opening of the home of Charenton thus took place in the general context of what Michel Foucault called the " great withdrawal " of the classical age, a policy of police streamlining whose institutional shape led to the creation of the general hospital.

Successive donations increased the capacity of the first home and a deed dated May 4th, 1662 aimed , for the first time, at increasing the boarding capacity of the hospital to "seven in the name of the Virgin's seven anxieties and the seven works of spiritual and corporal mercy".

The Brothers who were members of the charitable order and had been called to France by Mary of Médicis settled in the hospital on May 16th 1645. This date is in fact the beginning of the religious occupation of Charenton. It was to last until the French Revolution. It does not seem that at the beginning Charenton had been aimed at catering for local people. Thus the home belonged to what can be considered as the general background of Paris.

In September 1660, a Paris parliament ruling stated that insane people had to be catered for at the Hotel Dieu hospital, to be treated in specialized departments. Among the insane people who were sent there the most privileged ones were quickly transfered to the small homes of rue de Sèvres and to Charenton. This parliament ruling was the first legal step taken to send mentally ill people to specialized hospitals. So Charenton did not cater for poor people but for patients who were better off.

During the second half of the 17th century more and more madmen were to be locked up there.At the end of the century a special building was erected. It was separated from the original buildings and devoted to the locking up of men suffering from mental disorders. Throughout the 18th century the activity of the hospital increased, so that in 1768 the Brothers of the Charity bought up the seigneury of Charenton-Saint Maurice and the territories of la "Rivière" and la "Chaussée".

A 1720 capitular mentions the number of convicts : apart from the poor patients there were usually 120 convicts, most of whom were detained by order of the King, and often coming from the Bastille prison or other places. A capitular dated February 2nd, 1722 mentions that the Prior was required to visit all the residents at least once a week to comfort them as well as to know their situation, their needs and to make sure they were properly treated". The same capitular stated that the apothicar had to be provided with the simple and composed drugs necessary for the Brothers, the patients either poor or mentally ill.

The Brothers, members of the order of Saint Jean followed the general rules of their order. " During their noviciate the Brothers studied medicine, surgery, pharmacy and administration then they specialized in one of these fields… The patients were separated in several groups according to the nature and seriousness of their disease ; seriousness, semi-freedom or freedom corresponded to each group." According to Doctor Lehalle, the mentally ill were treated with drugs, bloodletting, comforting and medical care. The recalcitrant patients were condemned to isolation and locked up.

The hospital did not avoid the stormy period but the transition was soft. A report established by the Begging Commission finishes with these words, "This hospital deserves more than the others". One could then believe that the hospital would not end up like the others. An act of parliament passed on April 18th ,1792 required to suppress religious orders and led to the closing down of the hospital. The Public Salvation Committee ordered by decree on July 30th , 1795 that the hospital be totally evacuated : the patients were dispersed, the house was looted before being transformed into a state prison which was an annex of Vincennes.

On Frimaire 19th year VII, it was stated that insane people had to be sent to Charenton instead of being catered for at the Hotel Dieu in Paris. On June 15th ,1797 (Prairial year V) the Directoire ( French regime from 1795 to 1799) decided to reopen the hospital. The hospital then benefited from a new lay and administrative status. It was placed under the administrative supervision of the Ministry of the Interior (Home office).

The person holding the concession to run the hospital was Father de Coulmier who had previously been Father superior of the Prémontés. In 1810, the home of Charenton catered for 328 residents. Roulhac du Maupas, a former barrister, took after Father de Coulmier. Helped by the senior consultant, Roulhac du Maupas inaugurated a decade of changes heralding the reforms concerning insane people which were to be introduced by law on June 30th,1838.

The arrival of Jean-Etienne Esquirol in 1825 as senior consultant opened a period of intense activitites which contributed to the international reputation of the hospital. The hospital was to welcome the most famous psychiatrists : Moreau de Tours, Archambault, Ritti. Esquirol, who was born in Toulouse, was Pinel's favourite disciple ; he believed in the necessity to improve lunatic asylums for the patients and wanted psychiatric homes to become a "recovery instrument" and not only a place in which to lock up people.

In June 1883 he launched a program to build a new home aimed at boarding 300 patients. He intended to have a symmetrical and regular building erected on the plateau.The lines of the building were to be parallel and its stoutness was to have an effect on the patients and encourage the "moral treatment" of their illness. For seven months, the architect Emile Gilbert worked on two variants of the reconstruction project. One of them roughly remained the definitive plan of the new hospital. The first stone of the new building was planted on October 30th ,1838. The works lasted for six years, then they were stopped because of a lack of credit. They started again in 1865 and were finally finished in 1886. The building was described by Pierre Pinon (an architect) as being either "a temple of reason or a madness of archeology".

In 1970, the national hospital was turned into an autonomous public hospital of the department of Paris. In 1991, the hospital became a public hospital. The buildings are registered as ancient monuments ; any project concerning the buildings or the open spaces of the hospital must be approved by the Ministry of Culture, as the hospital comes under the regime of ancient monuments and under the regional organization responsible for urban development and equipment whose task is to maintain the country's architectural heritage as well as the open spaces of conservation areas.

Images of Charenton[edit]