The Mamilla Asylum was built near the Jaffa gate and was dedicated on 30 May 1867. Today, it too is in a fashionable neighborhood, located at 20 Agron Street across the street from the Mamilla Pool (an old water source for the city). It is no longer a leprosarium; the building was long ago sold to the Catholic Lazarist Order and is currently next door to the official residence of the USA Consul General in Jerusalem.
All three leprosarium buildings were designed and built by the German Protestant architect Conrad Schick, who employed local Moslem workers. The “Jesus Hilfe Asyl” was dedicated on 24 April 1887. During his 1898 visit to Jerusalem, Kaiser Wilhelm made a donation which allowed for the expansion and addition of a new wing.
“Jesus Hilfe Asyl” had a long and distinguished 113 year service history. During its first 73 years (between 1887 and 1950), it was operated by Jerusalem’s German Protestant community, supported by the Moravian Church. It provided shelter for Muslims, Christians and Jews of all ages suffering from Hansen’s Disease.
It was a spacious two-story building with a central courtyard and toilets on each floor. These were separated from the main building by a small access bridge. It included a generous portion of land containing four water cisterns, a vegetable garden, fruit trees and livestock, all designed as a self-sufficient facility. Contrary to popular practice, it was not a closed institution. Patients were free to come and go as they wished and their family members could visit them. “Since an effective cure did not exist, care was based on the accepted principles of hygiene, fresh air, proper nourishment, physical activity and spiritual support” (“Echoes from the Past” by Ruth Wexler, RN, MPA). It was the only facility of its kind in the Middle East and was used as a model for establishing similar care-giving institutions throughout the world.
In 1948, after the Israeli War of Independence, with the establishment of the State of Israel and the division of Jerusalem, some of the patients and staff left, moving either to the Silwan Asylum or another asylum in Ramallah. Two years later, the Moravian Church sold the “Jesus Hilfe Asyl” compound to Keren Kayemet L’Israel, which transferred ownership of the entire complex to the State of Israel. The institution was renamed “The Hansen Hospital,” with patient care transferred to the Israeli Ministry of Health assisted by the Hadassah Hospital’s dermatology department. Throughout the later part of the 20th century new drugs were developed which have nearly eliminated the disease and the remaining patients were able to gradually move out of the facility. In January 2000 the last in-patients were discharged and for a time the facility functioned as an Ambulatory Unit named “The Israeli Center for Hansen’s Disease”. In 2009 that unit along with a separate Ministry of Health facility for young children were relocated and the pitched battle for its preservation ensued.
Within the framework of the upcoming “Israel Festival – Jerusalem,” throughout late May and early June, the Hansen Compound will hold its first large scale performance when the L-E-V Dance Company will perform “Housen,” which will transform the former Hansen Hospital facility into a stage, installation and performance center.
Photo credits: All historical photos are from the “Behind the Wall” Exhibition, Photographs of Mamilla Ayslum, Jesus Hilfe Asyl on the hill and Conrad Schick Portrait were copied from “Friends of Conrad Schick” Blog located at: http://conradschick.wordpress.com/
All other photographs were taken by Isa David-Ben-Rafael and are property of IsraeLightly.