Welcome to the Leprosy Archives in Bergen

The City Archives of Bergen, The Regional State Archives of Bergen, The Medical-Historical Collections in Bergen and the Leprosy Museum in Bergen, are pleased to welcome you to this internet exhibition of the Leprosy Archives in Bergen. The exhibition is made in connection with UNESCO's nomination of the Leprosy Archives to the list Memory of the World. The list is parallel to the World Heritage list, in which we find Norwegian representatives: Urnes stave church, Bryggen in Bergen, RÝros, and the prehistoric rock carvings in Alta.

The leprosy is mentioned in sources from Egypt already 1350 years B.C., and it is the oldest source-documented disease in the world. You will find several references to leprosy and lepers in the Bible. In the third book of Moses, Leviticus, the disease is referred to as a plague, and rules are given on how to behave towards the lepers. This has had repercussions for the later perception of the disease.

Despite the fact that leprosy is not very contagious, it still is one of the major and more serious diseases in our time, with millions of victims. Today, this disease is generally located in the third world, but there was a time when leprosy was a serious disease in the western world as well.

From the end of the 17th century, Norway and Iceland were the only countries in Western Europe that had a large amount of lepers. The Leprosy Archives in Bergen are a unique collection of sources on leprosy from that time until modern times. It is a special collection as well: the amount of archival documents is very large; and the materials bear witness to far-reaching leprosy research.

During the 1830s, there was a high increase in the number of lepers in Norway. The institutions did not have room for all of them, people had to queue to get in, and only the most severe cases were admitted. The two doctors, Boeck and Danielsen, did extensive scientific research in the early 1840s, and the disease became a political issue. In 1854 a medical superintendent for leprosy was appointed, and in 1856 a national register for lepers was established. This was a great scientific development, and it is the first national patient register in the world.

Norwegians doctors discussed the cause of leprosy. For centuries one had believed leprosy to be contagious, but a lot of the doctors in Norway meant it had to be hereditary. An important breakthrough in leprosy research took place in 1873, when Gerhard Henrik Armauer Hansen discovered the leprosy bacillus and could state for certain that it was contagious. The disease is still called Hansen's Disease in many countries.

This internet exhibition aims at showing leprosy in Norway from different angles. The exhibition is divided into four parts:general information (information on leprosy and its history), presentation of the archives, and a "show room" of some of the documents in these archives. The "show room" has some digitised material, among others databases of patients coming in, or leaving the hospital; and sketches of lepers. The last part of the exhibition concerns the research on leprosy in modern times.