When the Foundation for Care for Lepers No.1 was taken into use in 1857, it was the third big hospital for lepers in Bergen. The first was St. Jørgen’s Hospital, which is originally from the early fifteenth century. The second was a research hospital – the Lungegård Hospital – which was built in 1849. The Foundation for Care for Lepers was situated just across the Lungegård Hospital, and a couple of hundred meters from St. Jørgen.
In 1839, Daniel Cornelius Danielssen (1815-1894) came to work as a medical doctor at St. Jørgen’s Hospital. Prior to this, the lepers had received very little medical care. Danielssen and Boeck’s monografy “Om Spedalskhed” (About Leprosy) from 1847 marks a starting point for the modern leprosy research.
With the two new hospitals, Bergen gradually became an international centre for leprosy research. Both the new hospitals were established during Danielssens time as chief physician for leprosy in Bergen.
The Lungegård Hospital had room for 84 patients. It burnt down on Christmas Eve in 1853, leaving 6 patient and one nurse dead in the flames. The hospital was soon rebuilt, giving room for 85 patients this time.
The Foundation for Care for Lepers No.1 is a wooden construction. With it’s 3450 square meters, it was among the largest wooden houses in Norway. 280 patients could stay here at a time when there were approximately 3000 victims of leprosy in Norway. Most of these people lived in Western Norway.
The young doctor Gerhard Henrik Armauer Hansen (1841-1912) came to work with Danielssen in 1868. The two doctors soon came to a disagreement. In Danielssens opinion leprosy was an hereditary blood disease, whereas Armauer Hansen believed it to be something different. The younger man had a theory that leprosy was caused by a germ. With modern microscopes and modern methods of research, he did in time verify the theory that leprosy was a contagious disease.
Armauer Hansen earned great international recognition for his discoveries. Today the disease is known across the world as Hansen’s disease.
Leprosy gradually went back in Norway. By the early nineteenth hundreds it was practically extinct. Today, the Lungegård Hospital has been torn down to give room for the railway, but the Foundation for Care for Lepers No.1 is still there. Armauer Hansen’s office is preserved, and is a museum today. Together with St. Jørgen’s Hospital, the two buildings serve as a monument over medical history nearly forgotten in Norway. But the two doctors are not forgotten in other parts of the world – their research on the terrible disease is still internationally famous.