Leprosy (leprosy) is one of the worst diseases. Hippocrates and the ancient Indians wrote about her.
In ancient times, the disease was considered divine punishment. Here we will try to remind them, making leprosy both more understandable and not so terrible.
Leprosy still exists. Usually they talk about this disease in the context of the Middle Ages or the biblical plague. However, the disease also exists in the modern world. Experts believe that today leprosy affects between two and three million people. The exact number is difficult to establish, as most people with leprosy live in poor and underdeveloped areas. It is believed that there are about a million lepers in India alone, and 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 back in 2005, but in some places there has even been a dramatic resurgence of the disease since then. Between 2010 and 2011, doctors recorded more than 125 thousand new cases of the disease. And do not think that the disease exists only in the remote regions of backward India. In the south of the United States in 2009, 213 new cases of leprosy were recorded, in total there were about 6,500 patients with leprosy nationwide.
Bells for lepers. Many people know that the movement of the lepers was accompanied by the ringing of the bells worn by the unfortunate. So people should have known that a sick person was approaching and get out of his way. In fact, the bells originally had a different purpose, the opposite. Until the 14th century, lepers relied on the kindness of strangers. Many patients lost their voice, and by ringing they drew attention to themselves so that they could be offered alms. These donations were often the only way for lepers to survive. And no one was afraid of this. Indeed, 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, lepers were even given a fixed portion of the bazaar food. True, over time, some cities banned the use of bells, because patients began to engage in natural extortion.
Lepers were initially isolated from humans. Thanks to modern archaeological research, it has become clear that our ideas about medieval lepers are not entirely correct. Between 1000 and 1500, Europeans attributed a wide variety of skin diseases to leprosy. Excavations of hospitals in France and England showed that there were not only patients with leprosy (Hansen's disease), but also suffering from tuberculosis and malnutrition. And although the hospitals themselves were located on the outskirts of medieval cities, the very fact of their existence can be noted. Therefore, the sick were not subjected to persecution and ostracism. Taking into account the quality of the first leper colony, it can be assumed that the patients received quite the professional help that could be offered at that time. Most of these buildings have been well built, expanded and even refurbished as needed. In such hospitals there were not only general wards, but also chapels and cemeteries. There, patients were buried in carefully dug graves. Separate tombstones were installed on them, there was a religious iconography. And only with the advent of plague epidemics, infectious patients began to shun, but this did not help.
Religion spread it, and the plague practically stopped it. In an attempt to trace the spread of leprosy, some strange details have been revealed. Comparison of the pathologies of different strains showed that Europe, about a thousand years ago, was struck by the same leprosy, whose type was common in the Middle East. There are currently 11 varieties of leprosy, researchers can trace where they originated and how the disease spread. This happened most violently during the time of the Crusades. A quarter of Europe's population suffered from leprosy, aided 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 was able to stop it. When the Black Death ravaged Europe, there was a sharp drop in leprosy. One of the theories says that a person has developed immunity to this disease (today, up to 95% of the population has natural defenses). According to another version, the plague first killed those who were most susceptible to leprosy. These people were already malnourished and had weakened immunity.
Royal care. Do not think that lepers were doomed in the Middle Ages. Moreover, even the monarchs looked after them. So, Queen Matilda of Scots was famous for her charitable acts, she especially emphasized that she was extending her grace to leper subjects. And the queen in caring for them went so far that she invited the sick to her private rooms, publicly touched their wounds, trying to allay the fears of people. Matilda followed in the footsteps of her mother Margaret, who was canonized in 1250 for her charitable work. Together with her father, Malcolm, Matilda washed the feet of all those in need during Lent. She founded the Hospital of Saint Gilles, in which the care of lepers was carried out. The Queen allocated funds for other, similar institutions. We are talking about a hospital in Chichester and a women's complex in Westminster. And King John of England also established laws to make life easier for lepers. He hosted a very popular fair in Cambridge, which allowed lepers to generate additional income.
Leprosy is transmitted by armadillos. Most diseases exist within one species of living creatures. Others, like the flu and rabies, can spread from animal to person and vice versa. For a long time, it was believed that leprosy is an exclusively human disease. Recently, however, it became known that the virus can also spread with the help of armadillos. Currently, every fifth such wild animal is a carrier of leprosy. In the southern United States, battleships are hunted for their meat. Eating such food can actually catch leprosy. The symptoms are usually poorly diagnosed, as leprosy is a rare disease in the region. As a result, in some cases, the case may reach an irreversible phase. But this fact also has its advantages. A virus cannot exist without a carrier - samples in laboratories die in a few days. Now, with the help of armadillos, researchers have been able to study the disease not only on the basis of the human body. It is much more practical to use for animal experiments.
The flesh doesn't rot. Imagining a leper, we see his body rotting and pieces of flesh falling off him. This image is generated by the appearance of actual symptoms, skin inflammations and wounds. However, these classic lesion patterns can be very faint, with little discoloration along the boundary line. Leprosy does not give rise to rotten flesh. The skin can be deformed to abnormal growths, spots, large areas lose sensitivity. Such numbness, together with the affected nerves, deprives a person of the sensation of their body, which leads to a number of other problems. We rely on our senses to react to pain and talk about it when we feel unpleasant. And people with leprosy can suffer from cuts and burns without even realizing that something bad is happening. Injuries, which in everyday life we avoid due to a warning reaction, can become serious here. And if you do not carry out timely full-fledged treatment, then numbness can turn into paralysis. Leprosy matures slowly in the body, and symptoms after infection can last up to 10 years. This makes diagnosis difficult.
Biblical leprosy was not leprosy. One of the reasons for the avoidance of lepers in the late Middle Ages was the "biblical" stigma on such people. There is a description of leprosy in the holy book, 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 and is described as a skin infection. But taking into account modern knowledge about the diseases and symptoms of leprosy, we can talk about anything: from a rash to reddening of the skin on swollen areas. The priests quickly diagnosed such skin problems as leprosy, claiming it was extremely infectious. This is refuted by modern medicine. Archaeological excavations from places where biblical events took place have not found the signs of leprosy known today, its classic manifestations - loss of sensitivity, deformation of the skin are not mentioned at all in the biblical texts. Perhaps the Bible, importantly, describes leprosy at the expense of inanimate objects. So, mold on a person, his clothes or in his home was considered signs of dirt and untidiness. The priest studied this place and declared that leprosy is the result of God's wrath, which punished the wicked. And in this case, quarantine was declared in the house, 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. This is what explains the strange methods of burial. So in Japan, in the area of Nabe-Kaburi, patients with leprosy were buried with pots on their heads. Archaeologists have found 105 such burials, including both men and women of various ages. The pots were made of iron, earthenware, or the simplest ones, from mortars. The earliest remains date from the 15th century, and the latest from the 19th century. In Japanese folklore, it is believed that a pot on the head can stop the spread of the disease that killed a person. For a long time, it was believed that there is a connection between folk legends and leprosy. Now, with the latest advances in science, it has indeed become known that many in Nabe Kaburi suffered from leprosy.
Leper Knights. Lepers are believed to have had a bad reputation and were generally ostracized by the Christian population. But the Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem appeared precisely due to such an illness, he welcomed leper knights into his ranks. After the capture of Jerusalem at the end of the First Crusade in 1099, the European knights invading the city also captured the hospital with lepers. The first abbot of the hospital became known as Blessed Gerard, for several decades this hospital was funded by the Order of Malta. As already mentioned, the number of people with leprosy increased significantly during the years of the Crusades. So many knights ended up in the hospital that the organization turned into a military one. And those who fell ill with terrible leprosy united in the Order of Saint Lazarus, which was funded by the Templars. The organization's envoys went first to France and then to England. The knights wanted to create branches of their order in Europe. And the original building in Jerusalem was expanded by merging with a convent. This gave the nuns protection and food. Gradually, the order included several chapels, a mill, and several more hospitals. Saladin's invasion 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 were recruited into the order, already healthy. The Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem still exists. Its affiliates around the world strive to serve their faith as humbly and loyally as the leper knights did centuries ago.
Leper saints. When leprosy came to Hawaii in the 19th century, the sufferers were separated and transferred to the island of Molokai. The Belgian émigré Joseph de Wester volunteered to take care of the isolated patients. More than 700 lepers were in his care. He was not the first to undertake such a task, but his colony turned out to be the largest. De Wester became more than just an abbot. He took the name Father Damian, providing not only medical care, but also personal involvement. The Belgian received a colony, which was deprived of the means of subsistence. 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 living among lepers, Damian de Wester himself received this diagnosis. He died in 1889 at the age of 49. In the last moments, Mother Marianne, another dedicated volunteer, was next to him. And she dedicated her life to serving the leper community in Hawaii. This Franciscan sister came to the islands in 1883 at the age of 45. She continued to serve the good cause until 1918, when she died at the age of 80. Father Damian was declared a saint by Pope Benedict XVI on October 11, 2009, and mother Marianne was canonized in October 2012. So the church recognized the selfless devotion of these people to those unfortunate ones whom society rejected.