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Originally a leprosarium founded on the road from Paris to Saint-Denis at the boundary of the marshy area of the former River Seine bank in the 12th century. It was ceded on 7 January 1632 to St. Vincent de Paul and the Congregation of the Mission he had founded. At this stage it became a place of detention for people who had become an embarrassment to their families: an enclosure for "black sheep" who had brought disgrace to their relatives.
The prison was situated in the enclos Saint-Lazare, the largest enclosure in Paris until the end of the 18th century, between the Rue de Paradis to its south, the Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Denis to its east, the Boulevard de la Chapelle to its north and the Rue Sainte-Anne to its west (today the Rue du Faubourg Poissonnière). Its site is now marked by the Church of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul.
The building was converted to a prison at the time of the Reign of Terror in 1793, then a women's prison in the early nineteenth century, its land having been seized and re-allotted little by little since the Revolution. It was largely demolished in 1935, with the Assistance publique - Hôpitaux de Paris installing itself in the remaining buildings, where they remained until recently. Only the prison infirmary and chapel (built by Louis-Pierre Baltard in 1834) remain of the prison, with the latter to be seen in the square Alban-Satragne (107, rue du Faubourg-Saint-Denis) in the 10th arrondissement. The surviving remains of the Saint-Lazare prison were inscribed on the supplementary inventory of historic monuments in November 2005.
The portrait of Joseph Cange, prison officer at the prison Saint-Lazare during the reign of Terror, who financially helped the family of a prisoner at the risk of his life and that the nation will honor after the fall of Robespierre, is kept in the Musée de la Révolution française.
A song by Aristide Bruant entitled À Saint-Lazare is named after the prison.
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