A visit to the leprosy museum

The Leprosy Museum (Lepramuseet) in Bergen is housed in the 18th century buildings of St Jørgen’s (St George’s) Hospital, and St. Jørgen’s Church forms part of the old leprosy hospital buildings. The hospital was founded before 1411, and was the central institution for treating people affected by leprosy in Western Norway until its closure in 1946. The present-day buildings date back to the early 18th century. Documents from the hospital were transferred to the City Archives of Bergen in the 1980s.

A famous scientific story is also linked to the cultural monument which was dedicated to St. Jørgen , who was the patron saint of lepers.  

Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease (HD). The causative agent of leprosy, M. leprae, was discovered by G. H. Armauer Hansen in Norway in 1873, making it the first bacterium to be identified as causing disease in humans

The Leprosy Museum tells about the disease leprosy and its history in Norway, about life in the hospital and the famous Norwegian contributions to leprosy research. The foundation’s archives are part of the Leprosy Archives in Bergen , which are on UNESCO’s Memory of the World programme.

The institution lived through the centuries as part of the surrounding society, but also separated as a separate city within the city. The nine listed buildings were all rebuilt after the town fire in 1702 , and today they form one of the best-preserved leprosy hospitals in Europe. But the buildings are full of settlement damage, because the ground beneath them is slowly but surely disappearing. 

St. Jørgens Hospital is one of Norway’s oldest foundations and one of Scandinavia’s oldest hospital institutions . Hospital operations date back to 1411, and down through the centuries the hospital has had its place in the Bergen cityscape. St Jørgen church was the parish church for Årstad parish until 1886, and the church was often used for children ‘s baptisms , which came to an abrupt end when it became clear that leprosy is contagious. At times there were 150 patients in the small hospital, and up to three people slept in each of the barely 4 m² rooms. 

Bergen had a pharmacy in 1588, but university-educated doctors are not mentioned until the 1590s. In 1603, Villads Adamssøn was appointed city physician , and it seems likely that it was part of his job to supervise the leper hospital. For a long time the hospital church did not have its own priest . In 1567 it was still the cathedral ‘s priest Absalon Pederssøn Beyer who was in charge of the funerals at Spital’s cemetery , but in 1572 it was agreed with the aging priest Gustaff Olsen that he could be admitted to the hospital in exchange for taking care of the patients’ souls . Halsnøy monastery had donated mass clothes and altar chalice .

At the end of the 17th century, Norway and Iceland were the only countries in Western Europe that were affected by leprosy on a large scale. From around 1830, Western Norway experienced a strong upsurge of the disease. Bergen thus became Europe’s leprosy capital. The majority of patients were poor fishermen and farmers. The last patients died as late as 1946, two women from Fjell and Eivindvikwhich was admitted in the 1890s. 

The museum exhibits the Bergen Collection of the History of Medicine, a presentation of Norway’s contribution to leprosy research and the original laboratory where Hansen discovered the leprosy bacillus, M. leprae. The exhibition covers the hospital conditions, symptoms and treatment. The museum also houses patients’ paintings.




Jo’s Monday Walk

32 thoughts on “A visit to the leprosy museum

  1. Pingback: Jo’s Monday walk : Chevin Forest Trail | Still Restlessjo

  2. I read about this disease in a book by one of the doctors most famous for treating it and discovering much of its pathology: “The Gift of Pain” by Dr. Paul Brand and Phil Yancey. An amazing story of God’s grace for those who suffered from this.
    ❤️& 🙏, c.a.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is such an interesting post on the history of leprosy. Though it’s such an “ancient” sickness, I see it’s still found in mostly Asia and Africa. But it seems in Norway, wonderful work were done to get a hold on this sickness. Great that the building was preserved and history are shared.

    Liked by 1 person

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