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Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Leprosy

In medieval Europe leprosy was a major problem and many leper colonies were built. The unfortunate lepers were provided small huts to live in and a high wall separated them from the community.

The saintly French king Louis IX founded many hospitals and as a gesture of humility he kissed lepers.

The smallest church in England, Culbone Church, Devon is 12 feet wide and was built near a leper colony. The lepers would follow the services through a window.

In 1864 Father Joseph Damien, a Flemish member of the Fathers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary, was sent to Hawaii as a missionary. Nine years later he asked his order to send him to the island of Molokai, Hawaii, where there was a leper colony, in which the people had to fight to survive in a lawless, morally deprived environment.
For twelve years Father Damien served selflessly as both priest and doctor, organized working farms and schools and bought law and order to the leper community. He even stayed on when he discovered that he had caught leprosy himself. Damien died of leprosy at 8:00 a.m. on April 15, 1889, at the age of 49 at the leper colony, a true Saint.

Father Damien on his deathbed
The island of Spinalonga (see below) which is located in the Gulf of Elounda in north-eastern Crete was used as a leper colony from 1903 to 1957. One of the last active leper colonies in Europe, the last inhabitant, a priest, left the island in 1962.


Armadillos and squirrels are the only animals besides humans that can get leprosy.

In 2016 25 red squirrels from Brownsea Island, off England's southern coast, all tested positive for a medieval strain of leprosy.

Until 1983, leprosy was grounds for divorce in Greece.

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