Leper colony

Spinalonga on Crete, Greece, one of the last leper colonies in Europe, closed in 1957.

A leper colony, leprosarium, or lazar house is a place to quarantine people with leprosy (Hansen's disease). The term lazaretto can refer to quarantine sites, which were at some time also leper colonies.


Abandoned nun's quarters at the leper colony on Chacachacare Island in Trinidad and Tobago.

Leper colonies or houses became widespread in the Middle Ages, particularly in Europe and India, and often run by monastic orders. Historically, leprosy has been greatly feared because it causes visible disfigurement and disability, was incurable, and was commonly believed to be highly contagious. A leper colony administered by a Roman Catholic order was often called a lazar house, after Lazarus, the patron saint of lepers.[1]

Some colonies were located on mountains or in remote locations in order to ensure quarantine, some on main roads, where donations would be made for their upkeep. Debate exists over the conditions found within historical leper colonies; while they are currently thought to have been grim and neglected places, there are some indications that life within a leper colony or house was no worse than the life of other, non-quarantined individuals. There is even doubt that the current definition of leprosy can be retrospectively applied to the Medieval condition. What was classified as leprosy then covers a wide range of skin conditions that would be classified as distinct afflictions today.[2]

Some leper colonies issued their own money (such as tokens), in the belief that allowing lepers to handle regular money could spread the disease.[3][4]

The last existing leper colony in Europe is Tichilești in Romania.

Political aspects

Laoe Si Momo (Spring Water) leper colony founded on August 25, 1906 in the Batak region of Sumatra, 10 kilometers from Kaban Jahe. Within five months it was home to 72 lepers and by April 1921 colony included 280. The patients lived in small houses

In 2001, government-run leper colonies in Japan came under judicial scrutiny, leading to the determination that the Japanese government had mistreated the patients, and the district court ordered Japan to pay compensation to former patients.[5] In 2002, a formal inquiry into these colonies was set up, and in March 2005, the policy was strongly denounced. "Japan's policy of absolute quarantine... did not have any scientific grounds."[6] The inquiry denounced not only the government and the doctors who were involved with the policy, but also the court that repeatedly ruled in favor of the government when the policy was challenged, as well as the media, which failed to report the plight of the victims.

See also


  1. "Patron Saints Index: Saint Lazarus".
  2. Archived October 23, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  3. Unique experiment with currency notes(1970) Isaac Teoh, The Star, January–February, p7.
  4. The numismatic aspects of leprosy(1993), McFadden, RR, Grost J, Marr DF. p.21 D.C.McDonald Associates, Inc. U.S.A.
  5. "Koizumi apologises for leper colonies". BBC News. 2001-05-25. Retrieved 2007-03-20.
  6. "Japan's leprosy policy denounced". BBC News. 2005-03-02. Retrieved 2007-03-20.
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