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The Leprosy Museum – St. Jørgen’s Hospital - Bymuseet

The Leprosy Museum – St. Jørgen’s Hospital

A touching history about science and human dignity. An authentic hospital environment telling dramatic stories - one of the most unique experiences in Bergen.

A unique cultural monument with strong stories set in it’s walls.

St. Jørgen’s hospital is a unique cultural monument. When you visit the museum, you cannot avoid imagining what life must have been like for the many people who have lived parts of their lives here for centuries. At the same time, you will be able to learn more about the disease leprosy and its spread in Norway, and about how a large-scale investment in research and health work put Bergen on the world map. You can join a guided tour or visit on your own to see the exhibition in the main building.

A unique museum that makes a powerful impression

St. Jørgen´s Hospital has existed in Bergen since the 15th century, but due to several city fires, nothing remains from the medieval hospital. Between 1850 and 1900 Bergen had three hospitals for leprosy patients, and the largest concentration of patients in Europe.

The buildings remaining here today are all listed and constitute a well-preserved hospital environment from the 18th century. The church and the main building with bedrooms and kitchen have largely remained unchanged since the last two residents died in 1946, after living here for over 50 years. Perhaps you, like many of our previous guests, will find walking around the now empty rooms a gripping and thought-provoking experience.

From oblivion to acknowledgement

The history of leprosy in Norway is probably in many ways a little known part of our national history, but at the same time many visitors from all over the world find their way to the museum. St. Jørgen´s hospital is not only a monument to thousands of personal tragedies, it is also an important arena for the dissemination of Norwegian work and research on leprosy. The hospital’s archives are part of the Leprosy Archives in Bergen, which are on UNESCO’s program for World Memory.

A medical breakthrough

In 1873, Bergen doctor Gerhard Armauer Hansen identified the leprosy bacillus. This represented an international breakthrough, not only for leprosy research, but in medicine in general.

The discovery of the leprosy bacillus has been able to enjoy international fame for well over 100 years and even today Hansen is one of the most famous Norwegians in the world. In many parts of the world leprosy is still commonly known as Hansen’s disease.

Illness and stigma

The story of leprosy is not only about medicine and science, but also about social conditions and social relationships. Leprosy is a disease that from the Middle Ages until today has had major consequences for those who have been affected, and prejudice and stigma are still a challenge in countries where the disease is still widespread.

The herb garden

The museum also has its own herb garden. If you enter through the old farm building, you will find a garden behind the main building which contains a number of plants that have traditions for medicinal use.

The garden was developed in the 1990s and is open for visits during the museum’s opening hours. Not too many people have found this hidden gem yet, so you can usually enjoy the peace and quiet here in the middle of the city.

In 2023, it was 150 years since the leprosy bacteria was discovered in Bergen, and this was marked with a new exhibition.

The discovery of the leprosy bacteria 150 years

One February evening in the year 1873, the young Bergen doctor Gerhard Armauer Hansen sat in front of the microscope and studied the specimen under the lens. And now he saw them: “rod-shaped bodies” that moved.

Could what he now saw in the microscope be the infectious agent he was looking for, the key to justifying the theory that leprosy was an infectious disease? How could this medical breakthrough happen here in Bergen, and was this only positive?

The exhibition presents several prerequisites for and challenges in Hansen’s work.

Practical information and tips

  • The Museum is best suited for adults, but also youngsters and bigger children going in a group with others.
  • We recommend warm clothing even in the summer.
  • Language: We offer guided tours in Norwegian and English. We also have leaflets about the exhibition in English, German, French and Spanish.
  • Open houses: It is primarily the main building and the church that is open to the public. Several of the other houses are let out to tenants and can not be visited.
  • Accessibility: Parts of the museum is made available for wheelchairs. Unfortunately the main entrance does not have a permanent ramp, but we are happy to help you. If you suffer from astma or allergies you might react to the indoor climate in some of these old buildings.
  • The herb garden: Have you discovered that the museum has its own herbal garden? If you walk through the passage of the old maintance building you will find the herbal garden that contains a lot of plants that have long traditions for medical uses. The garden was made at the beginning of the 1990 and is open in the museums opening hours. Enjoy the tranquility in the garden whilst being in the middle of the city.
  • Smoking, barbeque and any us of open fire is prohibited both in the garden and in the yard.
  • The museum has not cafe, situated in the city centre there are plenty of options close by.