Former asylum of Saint-Robert (now Centre Hospitalier Alpes Isère de Saint-Egrève)
rue de la Gare, Saint-Egrève (6.5 kilometres north-west of central Grenoble) [ Map ]
Centre Hospitalier Alpes Isère de Saint-Egrève is located on the site of a Benedictine monastery dedicated to Saint Robert which had been established in 1070. In the late seventeenth century, a soldiers’ hospital was built in the grounds of the monastery. During and after the French Revolution, the hospital and other buildings on the site became public property.
The present institution traces its origins to the establishment of the Maison de refuge de Saint-Robert by the French Government in 1812. From 1816, the property was variously used as a workhouse, a correctional facility, an asylum for the insane, a house of refuge for unwed mothers, and as a hospice for men and women suffering from venereal disease. The complex underwent a major reorganisation in the second-half of the nineteenth century and is now a modern mental health facility, catering to a wide range of mental illnesses. Increasing urbanisation after the Second World War led to the loss of the hospital’s original rural setting.
In his youth, Eymard desperately wanted to learn Latin so that he could become a priest. At first, Eymard’s father discouraged this interest because he wanted his son to work in the family business, pressing oil from nuts. Eventually, his father relented. At the age of seventeen, Eymard was allowed to accept a position in the domestic service of a chaplain at the hospice of Saint-Robert, about six kilometres from Grenoble, in return for lessons in Latin from the priest.
The arrangement was not a success. In 1828, when Eymard was living at Saint-Robert, many of the patients were in the final stages of syphilis and had lost their sanity. The hospice would have been a confronting environment for almost any person, and especially for a young man who had led a relatively sheltered life to that time. Eymard confided to his sisters that he was ‘suffering’. The place was full of crime, sickness, and disorder. He was also very lonely. Adding to these problems, the chaplain was rarely in attendance and Eymard did not receive the Latin instruction that he was promised.
Eymard was living at Saint-Robert in August 1828, when he received news that his mother had died. He returned to La Mure and went back to his old job, working the family oil press. His experience at Saint-Robert had been a bitter disappointment, but he was still determined to become a priest.
Centre Hospitalier Alpes Isère de Saint-Egrève [French]
Centre Hospitalier Alpes Isère de Saint-Egrève: Google Maps
Michel Caire, De l’Asile d’aliénés de Saint-Robert au Centre Hospitalier de Saint-Egrève (Isère) at Histoire de la Psychiatrie en France (2007-2009) [French]
Saint-Egrève (official site) [French]