Leprosy (leprosy) is one of the most terrible diseases. We firmly associate it with the Middle Ages. Then people eschewed the lepers, who rotted the flesh. The presence of these ghost people was accompanied by the bell of a bell, they were placed in a colony, where no one properly treated. An ancient disease is mentioned in the Bible. About her wrote Hippocrates and the ancient Indians.

In ancient times the disease was considered a divine punishment. Only in 1873 was found the causative agent of leprosy, a man learned to effectively fight leprosy. But most people know little about the disease, trusting the bright images of books and films, not facts. Here they are, we will try to recall, making leprosy and more understandable, and not so terrible. Leprosy still exists.

Usually, this disease is spoken of in the context of the Middle Ages or the Biblical plague. However, the disease exists in the modern world. Experts believe that today leprosy affects from two to three million people. The exact number is difficult to establish, since most leprosy patients live in poor and underdeveloped areas. It is estimated that India alone has about a million lepers, while the World Health Organization even notes an increase in the number of diseases in some parts of the country. There are regions in India where leprosy was officially eradicated as early as 2005, but in some places there has even been a sharp revival of the disease since then. Between 2010 and 2011, doctors recorded more than 125 thousand new cases. And do not think that the disease exists only in remote areas of backward India. In the south of the USA in 2009, 213 new cases of leprosy were recorded, in total around 6,500 leprosy patients.

Bells on lepers.

Many people know that the movement of lepers was accompanied by the ringing of bells that were worn by the unfortunate. So people had to know that a sick person was approaching and to get out of his way. In fact, originally the bells had a different goal, the opposite. Until the XIV century lepers relied on the kindness of strangers. Many patients lost their voice, and they attracted attention to ringing with their ringing, so that they could be offered alms. These donations were often for the lepers the only way to survive. And no one was afraid of this. After all, in the Middle Ages, after the Crusades, many knights returned from the Holy Land with leprosy. This disease began to be considered righteous. In some places a leper even gave a fixed portion of products from the bazaar. However, in due course some cities have forbidden to use bells, after all patients began to be engaged in natural extortion.

The leper was originally isolated from people.

Thanks to modern archaeological research, it became clear that our ideas about medieval lepers are not entirely correct. Between 1000 and 1500 years, Europeans treated leprosy quite a variety of skin diseases. Excavations of hospitals in France and England showed that there were not only patients with leprosy (Hansen’s disease), but also suffering from tuberculosis, malnutrition. And although the hospitals themselves were located on the outskirts of medieval cities, one can note the very fact of their existence. Consequently, the patients were not subjected to persecution and ostracism. Given the quality of the first leprosarium, it can be assumed that patients received rather professional help, which could be offered at that time. Most of these buildings were built, expanded and even repaired as necessary. In such hospitals there were not only general chambers, but also chapels, as well as cemeteries. There patients were buried in carefully excavated graves. They were set up separate tombstones, there was a religious iconography. And only with the advent of plague epidemics, infectious patients began to shy away, but this did not help.

Religion spread it, and the plague practically stopped.

In an attempt to trace the spread of leprosy revealed some strange details. A comparison of the pathologies of different strains showed that Europe, about a thousand years ago, was affected by that leprosy, whose type was common in the Middle East. At present, there are 11 varieties of leprosy, researchers can trace where they originate and how the disease spread. Most violently this happened during the Crusades. A quarter of Europe’s population suffered from leprosy, which was facilitated by the emergence of new diseases on the continent. Previously isolated populations did not have immunity to them. Thus, religious wars contributed to the spread of leprosy, but the plague could stop it. When the Black Death devastated Europe, there was a sharp drop in the number of leprosy. One of the theories says that a person has developed immunity to this disease (today up to 95% of the population has a natural protection). According to another version, the plague first killed those who were most susceptible to leprosy. These people already suffered from malnutrition and weakened immunity.

Royal care.

Do not think that lepers in the Middle Ages were doomed. Moreover, even monarchs looked after them. Thus, Queen Mathilde of Scotland was known for her charitable acts, she especially emphasized that she extended her grace to leprous subjects. And the queen in the care of them went so far as to invite patients to their private rooms, publicly touching their wounds, trying to dispel fears of people. Matilda followed in the footsteps of her mother Margaret, who was canonized in 1250 for charity work. Together with his father, Malcolm, Matilda during the Great Lent washed her feet to all the suffering. She founded the St. Giles Hospital, in which care was carried out for the lepers. The Queen allocated funds to other similar institutions. This is the hospital in Chichester and the women’s complex in Westminster. And the English King John also established laws that facilitate the life of the lepers. He arranged a very popular fair in Cambridge, which allowed the lepers to gain additional income.

The leprosy is transmitted by the battleships.

Most diseases exist within one species of living beings. Others, like influenza and rabies, can pass from animal to man and vice versa. For a long time it was believed that leprosy is an exclusively human disease. However, recently it became known that the virus can also spread with the help of armadillos. At present, every fifth such wild animal is the bearer of leprosy. In the south of the US, battleships are hunted for their meat. Eating such food, you can really catch leprosy. Symptoms of this are usually poorly diagnosed, because leprosy is a rare disease for the region. As a result, in some cases the matter can reach an irreversible phase. But there is a plus in this fact. The virus can not exist without a carrier – samples in laboratories die within a few days. Now with the help of battleships, researchers were able to study the disease not only on the basis of the human body. Use for experiments animals much more practical.


The flesh does not rot.

Presenting the leper, we can see how his body rot and the pieces of flesh fall off from him. Such an image is generated by the kind of actual symptoms, skin inflammations and wounds. However, these classic lesions can be very weak, with little discoloration along the boundary line. Rotten flesh does not breed leprosy. The skin can be deformed to abnormal growths, spots, large areas lose sensitivity. Such numbness along with the affected nerves deprive the person of the sensation of his body, which leads to a whole host of other problems. We rely on feelings, reacting to pain, and talking about it when there are unpleasant feelings. And patients with leprosy can suffer from cuts and burns, without even realizing that something bad is happening.Injuries, which we avoid in normal life due to a warning reaction, can become serious here. And if you do not conduct timely full-fledged treatment, then numbness can turn into paralysis. Leprosy ripens in the body slowly, symptoms after infection can manifest up to 10 years. This makes diagnosis difficult.

Biblical leprosy was not a leper.

One of the reasons for avoiding lepers in the late Middle Ages was the “biblical” stigma on such people. The sacred book has a description of leprosy, but a closer look at these lines will reveal that it is about something completely different from the Hansen disease that we know today. In the Bible, leprosy is called sara’at, it is described as a skin infection. But given the modern knowledge of the diseases and symptoms of leprosy, it can be anything: from rashes to redness of skin on swollen areas. The priests quickly diagnosed such skin problems – leprosy, stating its extreme contagiousness. This is refuted by modern medicine. Archaeological excavations from the places where the biblical events were created, did not find known signs of leprosy today, its classical manifestations – loss of sensitivity, deformation of the skin, are not mentioned in the biblical texts at all. Perhaps the Bible, what is important, describes the defeat by leprosy at the expense of inanimate objects. So, the mold on a man, his clothes or in a dwelling was considered a sign of filth and uncleanliness. The priest studied this place and claimed that leprosy is the result of God’s wrath, which punished the wicked. And in the house, in this case, quarantine was declared, this place was cleaned. If the mold could not be defeated, then the entire dwelling was destroyed.

Preventive Burials.

Leprosy has spread not only in Europe, but also in Asia, as well as in the Americas. People around the world shared the fears of Europeans about this terrible disease. It is this that can explain the strange methods of burial. So in Japan, in the Nabe-Kaburi area, people with leprosy were buried with pots on their heads. Archaeologists found 105 such burials, including both men and women of different ages. Pots were used iron, faience or the simplest, from mortars. The earliest remains are dated to the 15th century, and the latest to the nineteenth century. In Japanese folklore, it is believed that the pot on the head can stop the spread of the disease that killed the person. For a long time it was believed that there is a connection between folk legends and leprosy. Now with the latest achievements of science, it became known that many in Nabe-Kaburi suffered from leprosy.

Leper knights.

It is believed that the lepers had a bad reputation and were generally ostracized by the Christian population. But the Order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem appeared just thanks to such a disease, he welcomed in his ranks lepers knights. After the capture of Jerusalem at the end of the First Crusade in 1099, the European knights invaded the city and seized a hospital with lepers. The first rector of the hospital became known as Blessed Gerard, for several decades this hospital was financed by the Order of Malta. As already mentioned, the number of people affected by leprosy has increased significantly during the years of the Crusades. The hospital got so many knights that the organization turned into a military one. And those who fell ill with terrible leprosy united in the Order of St. Lazarus, which was financed by the Knights Templar. The messengers of the organization first went to France, and then to England. The knights wanted to establish branches of their order in Europe. And the original building in Jerusalem was expanded by merging with the convent. This gave nuns protection and provided them with food. Gradually the order included several chapels, a mill and several other hospitals. The invasion of Saladin stopped the expansion of the organization, but it still remained under the protection of the papacy.When most of the original members died, new knights, already healthy, were recruited into the order. The Order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem exists until now. His branches around the world seek to serve their faith as humbly and faithfully as lepers knights many centuries ago.


The lepered saints.

When the leprosy came to Hawaii in the XIX century, the sufferers were separated and transferred to the island of Molokai. To take care of the isolated patients the Belgian emigrant Joseph de Vester was called. He was in charge of more than 700 lepers. He was not the first to undertake such a thing, but his colony was the largest. De Wester became more than just a rector. He took the name of Father Damian, providing not only medical assistance, but also personal involvement. The Belgian received a colony that was deprived of a livelihood. He managed to build a temple, farms, schools and cemeteries here, drawing attention to the problem of the government. The priest established life in the colony. After 12 years of life among the lepers, Damian de Vester himself received such a diagnosis. He died in 1889 at the age of 49 years. In the last moments, next to him was Mother Marianne, another volunteer dedicated to the same cause. And she dedicated her life to serving the leprous society in Hawaii. This Franciscan sister came to the islands in 1883 at the age of 45 years. She continued to serve a good cause until 1918, when she died at the age of 80. Father Damian Pope Benedict XVI recognized on October 11, 2009 as a saint, and his mother was canonized in October 2012. So the church recognized the selfless devotion of these people to those unhappy people whom society rejected.

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