One-handed Nils Jude and Giertson’s journey to Holland

Few stories are known about the sick patients at St. Jørgen’s Hospital or in Bergen before the 18th century. Absalon Pedersøn Beyer’s diary contains some, however. Beyer was headmaster of the cathedral school and a clergyman at the cathedral. From 1552 to 1572, he kept a diary describing his experiences in Bergen. His diary features people from ‘the Spital’, i.e., St. Jørgen’s Hospital.

Section of hand drawn copy of map from Geelkerck, 1646. Bergen City Archives.
Copy of Isac van Geelkerck’s 1646 map of Bergen, the oldest known map of Bergen. St. Jørgen’s Hospital is depicted as ‘Hospital’.
The archive of the Survey Agency, Bergen City Archives.

Deaths at ‘the Spital’
He writes that several hospital residents died during a plague epidemic in the 1560s, and on 27 April 1571, he officiated at the funeral of ‘a girl at the Spital cemetery who died from leprosy’. Earlier that year, a ‘female Spital resident’ died in ‘the Spital’. On 16 January 1570, he writes about ‘the one-handed man Nils Jude’ who died in the hospital and was buried in the hospital cemetery the following day. This can be understood as a description of how leprosy could cause sufferers to lose limbs, but it is also possible that Nils Jude was missing a hand before he fell ill and that it was therefore a way of identifying him. These diary entries are some of the first sources to mention that the hospital had its own cemetery.

Jon who died in All Saints Churchyard
In 1565, Beyer recounts the dramatic story of Jon, who died in his wife’s arms at All Saints Churchyard on 19 March. Jon had leprosy, he was ‘spoiled’, as Beyer puts it, and at city hall he had been sentenced to let himself be admitted to the hospital. He had now put his affairs in order and taken leave of his friends, and his wife Genitte accompanied him. As they were crossing All Saints Churchyard, he prayed to God to not let him end up in the hospital and that his ‘poor little children’ should not hear ill of him and suffer on his account. While Jon was praying and his wife held him in her arms, God heard his prayer and he ‘gently sank to the ground and died’. He was brought back home and buried the following day. This is the only case we know of anyone being sentenced to be admitted to the hospital.

The pastor with leprosy
In 1563, Beyer tells the story of the pastor of Selje in Nordfjord, Peder Giertson, who was replaced because he was said to have leprosy. Three years later, on 6 June 1566, an entry in the diary states that Giertson ‘died (…) from leprosy’ in his mother’s house in Bergen and that his funeral was held in Bergen Cathedral. Giertson was probably nursed by his mother in Bergen after he fell ill and had to give up his work as a cleric. Beyer also writes that Giertson had travelled to Holland to be healed in the spring of the year before he died. However, he received ‘no sound advice’, he writes, because they gave him drinks ‘so that they betrayed him’. This tells us that those who had the means, would try anything to be cured, including travelling long distances.

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