Toulouse: Pink Bricks, Perplexing Past

View of the iconic dome of l'Hôpital Saint-Joseph de la Grave in Saint-Cyprien from the opposite side of the Garonne

View of the iconic dome of l’Hôpital Saint-Joseph de la Grave in Saint-Cyprien from the opposite side of the Garonne. Photo C. Davis.

Upon arrival at Charles de Gaulle Airport at 6am French time (midnight Detroit time), I realized I wasn’t in the proverbial “Kansas” anymore. Luckily years of French in Québec City had helped prepare me for what lie ahead. Somewhat. As much as one person could be prepared for 6 hours on the high-speed TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse). However, six hours flew by- literally and figuratively- and I was finally in Toulouse, an entirely different place than Paris, as it has always been. Upon arrival the appearance of the city itself seemed to reflect all of the strong regional differences I had read about for years in eighteenth-century literature- from the use of the Occitan language, to the celebrated pink bricks of the architecture throughout La Ville Rose. My visit to Toulouse was prompted by a series of seals from the Fort Ticonderoga Museum Collections that I identified in my Master’s thesis. Many of these seals read “HOSPITAL SAINT JOSEPH DE LA GRAVE” completely or partially on one side, and on the other side of the seal is stamped “D. MARIETTE L’AINE ET DUMAS NEGT DE MONTAUBAN” with an image of two seagulls on top of a floating anchor. One side clearly represented members of the Mariette and Dumas families in a partnership, but the connection with a general hospital in Toulouse (28 miles away) was unclear. Additional links to Toulouse were provided by seals doublestruck with the seal of the Dumas-Mariette partnership and the inspection mark of the “Manufacture des Couvertures de Toulouse” (blanket manufacturers of Toulouse). Using this seal as a lead, I investigated the connection between the Hôpital Saint-Joseph de la Grave and textile manufacturing to eventually discover an unexpected history.

"La vieille aux chats" (The old woman with cats) Jacques Callot 1623. (

“La vieille aux chats” (The old woman with cats) Jacques Callot 1623. (

On July 6, 1647, the Capitouls, the ruling body of the Toulouse, implemented “Le Grand Renfermement” (The Great Confinement) which insisted “that all the poor beggars, valid or invalid, of either sex, of the city of Toulouse or of other cities and places of the diocese that are in Languedoc and where there are not hospitals, be confined to the said hospital Saint-Joseph de la Grave, to there be fed, instructed and put to work in the manner that is judged most advantageous by the directors of the said hospital.” The Hôpital Saint-Joseph de la Grave in the 17th and 18th centuries, then, was not a medical hospital in the way we think of hospitals today, but rather a place of forced confinement for not only the poor, but also orphans, prostitutes, and financially insecure elderly persons. Further research revealed the nature of this confinement to be less than comfortable, with inmates lodged together in dank rooms on shared straw mattresses infested with pests and shared quiet and meager meals that provided little nutrition. All persons wore a blue uniform with wooden work shoes provided by the hospital, and each category of inmates were assigned various production tasks. The manufacture of woolen blankets, such as those marked with the seals found at Fort Ticonderoga, was relegated to prostitutes and the able bodied poor, likely other women, given the segregation of sexes mandated by hospital administrators. In hopes of finding the connection between the Mariettes and the production of textiles at the hospital, and to understand more about life in the hospital during the Grand Renfermement, I visited the historic hospitals of Toulouse.

Statue of St. Joseph in the courtyard of La Grave

Statue of St. Joseph in the courtyard of La Grave. Photo C. Davis

I started at the Hôpital Saint-Jacques, the hôtel dieu and medical center of Toulouse during my period of interest. This is only part of the hospital complex of Saint-Cyprien quarter that is set up as a museum space, though some other portions of the complex are accessible to visitors or still in use, including a magnificent Italian glass window installed in the mid-eighteenth century overlooking the Garonne River. While I learned a great deal about medical treatment in the 17th and 18th centuries, it said very little concerning the neighboring Hôpital Saint-Joseph de la Grave. I did learn from one of the local staff members that the future of La Grave is uncertain, with some suggesting that the city should simply convert the buildings into apartments. La Grave appears to have fallen into a certain amount of
disuse in recent years, since the transfer of the last patients to other hospitals in 2010. In spite of the popularity of iconic dome on the hospital’s chapel that is one of the prominent features of the city’s skyline, it seems that the early modern history of La Grave is largely unknown and unexplored except by a small number of local historians or specialists on the larger national phenomenon of confinement that took place in the 1640s and 50s. Though the chapel itself was closed for maintenance, many of the courtyards of La Grave were open and accessible, and allowed a glimpse into some of the site’s history. Nineteenth-century inscriptions in a mishmash of Latin and Occitan loom over the entries to the main courtyard, reminding resident orphans of past centuries of their debt to society. Enclosing the courtyards, the buildings of La Grave are a series of long hallways and rooms presided over by the ever present chapel dome. Though visiting the site helped me understand the history and materiality of La Grave, it did not answer my questions about the Mariette’s dealings with the hospital. I am still attempting to locate archives that may contain everyday financial and business paperwork from the hospital, and through the advice of colleagues I have a few potential leads for my next visit to Toulouse.

Interior court of La Grave

Interior court of La Grave. Photo C. Davis

A visit to the Musée de Vieux Toulouse also failed to illuminate the manufacturing history of La Grave, though I did learn a little bit about textiles in the city more generally. Toulouse experienced a significant economic boom in the 15th century thanks to the confection of high quality blue dye derived from woad, a plant that grows throughout Western Europe. This boom came to a halt in the next century as indigo increased in popularity due to its particular shade, ease of production, increased importation, and higher dye yields. Toulouse in the 17th and 18th centuries was well connected to Italy through trade, especially through the construction and use of the Canal du Midi, which helped to link southern France to the Mediterranean. As a result, Italian textiles were prevalent in the city in the nineteenth century and potentially earlier.

"Sepulcher of Antoine Cogoreux Master Cloth Finisher for he and his RIPA -Requiescat In Pace Amen- 1743" Photo C. Davis

“Sepulcher of Antoine Cogoreux Master Cloth Finisher for he and his RIPA -Requiescat In Pace Amen- 1743” Photo C. Davis

Finally, I visited the Couvent des Jacobins, a 14th century monastery in the middle of the city, hoping to get an appreciation for the medieval architecture and history of Toulouse. During my visit I was excited to see some details that were surprisingly relevant to my research, notably 16th-18th century memorial markers for patrons of the monastery that adorned the floors of the cloister. One in particular caught my eye- an 18th-century memorial plaque for a tondeur des draps, a cloth finisher, complete with the large finishing shears that were used to perfect a finished piece of wool cloth. Many cloth merchants, including the Mariettes, originally started as finishers, and used their experience as workers to become managers of their own factories and warehouses. Toulouse seems to hold its secrets well and I will be sure to visit in the future in order to better investigate the less than popular history of La Grave.