Pleiestiftelsen Hospital

The leprosy hospital Pleiestiftelsen for Spedalske No. 1 (the Nursing Foundation for leprosy patients No.1) was completed and received its first patients in 1857. Pleiestiftelsen could accommodate 280 patients, or residents as they were known at that time.

The large wooden building was located close to Lungegaard Hospital, which had been erected a few years earlier. At that time, the state had bought a part of an area of land at Lungegårdsmarken and divided it into three. The southern part was allocated to Lungegaard Hospital, the middle to Pleiestiftelsen Hospital and the northern part to the City of Bergen as a cemetery. Pleiestiftelsen’s buildings were located along Kalfarveien road, which led south out of the city not far from the city gate, and the large grounds sloped down to the waterfront at Store Lungegårdsvann. A beautiful garden with walking paths for the residents was gradually developed there.

The buildings were taken over by the State Rehabilitation Institute in 1957, but a few residents who had had leprosy remained there until 1973. The building’s address is now Kalfarveien 31 and it has been listed since 2013. The main building underwent major renovations in around 1990. It is now privately owned and mostly comprises offices.


An institution for care

Pleiestiftelsen was originally not an institution intended for research and cure, but rather a place where residents received care and where they could expect to stay for a long time.

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Pleiestiftelsen. Cropped photo: Atelier Knud Knudsen. University of Bergen Library.

A new type of hospital

When Lungegaard Hospital was closed in 1895, the nature of Pleiestiftelsen changed. From that point, both treatment trials and scientific studies became part of everyday life at the hospital

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Hall for patients with tuberculosis. Photo: K. Knudsen & Co. Cropped. University of Bergen Library.

New use in the 1900s

As leprosy gradually became less prevalent in Norway, there was a lot of spare capacity at this large institution. At some point after 1900, the south wing was rented to the City of Bergen to be used for tuberculosis patients.

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Portrait Nicolai Ordahl. Photo belongs to Enid Gjelten Weichselbaum.

N. Ordahl’s account

Nicolai Ordahl was employed as a cup setter at Pleiestiftelsen in 1898. After visiting Bergen in 1964, he wrote down his memories of his year there, providing a vivid picture of the time he spent with colleagues and residents.

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The buildings

When Pleiestiftelsen Hospital was completed in 1857, it was Norway’s largest wooden building. It comprised over 7,000 square metres spread over two full floors, with a loft above and a basement below. The buildings were designed by the municipal town planner Hans Hansen Kaas and built in the Swiss chalet style. In addition to the large main building, which could accommodate 280 patients, there were several smaller buildings, such as staff housing and latrine buildings at the rear.

In addition to the main building, the 1910 census mentions the following buildings: ‘two staff residences, a morgue, two greenhouses, a hen house and coach house with a stable and manure shed’.

Pleiestiftelsen Hospital. Leprosy Museum St. Jørgen's Hospital.

The main building

When the main building opened in 1857, it was Norway’s largest wooden building and could accommodate 280 residents. Men and women lived in separate side wings, while the central building housed the kitchen, laundry, a classroom, chapel and offices.

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Pleiestiftelsen hospital, front with housing for staff.

Staff residences

Towards the street on each side of the entrance were two smaller housing units for staff. Originally, the superintendent and the porter lived in one of the residences, and the bookkeeper and ‘male service staff’ lived in the other.

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Drawing from Henry Vandyke Carter: Report on Leprosy and Leper-asylums in Norway; with references to India (1874)

Bathhouse and mortuary

In the courtyard at the rear of the main building was a small building that housed the bathing facilities and mortuary. A room for post-mortems was also added during building work in 1868.

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Drawing from 1918. Regional State Archives of Bergen.


The latrines were originally housed in two wings at the back of a rear building, where there was also a bathhouse and mortuary. They were later moved to two annexes located on each of the wings in the main building and flush toilets were also installed.

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Everyday life

Residents and staff spent many hours a day together at Pleiestiftelsen. Many of the staff lived there, and their working days were probably often long and busy. For the residents, their daily routine might sometimes have been interrupted by errands to the city or visits, or an occasional trip home to visit their family for a few weeks, but for the most part they were probably governed by a set routine.

According to the ‘General Provisions, to be observed by Pleiestiftelsen residents’ from 1857, the residents should be ‘peaceable’, obedient to the staff, carry out their work as instructed, and otherwise comply with the hospital’s house rules. There were fixed times for getting up, going to bed, eating and working.

Section 1 of the Rules of Conduct reads as follows: ‘The residents should, as far as their health permits, be dressed in the summer at 7, in winter at 7 ½ in the morning. The general bedtime at the hospital is 9 in the summer, 8 ½ in the evening in winter.’

During its first decades of operation, Pleiestiftelsen had a reputation for being an institution with strict rules that made many requirements of the residents. Although this gradually changed, the people who lived there probably had little say in their everyday lives. Others decided everything for them, from where they should be to what they should eat.

Drawing from Henry Vandyke Carter: Report on Leprosy and Leper-asylums in Norway; with references to India (1874)


The patient wards were relatively large and could accommodate seven residents. In each ward, there was a wood or coke stove and beds made of iron.

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Drawing from Henry Vandyke Carter: Report on Leprosy and Leper-asylums in Norway; with references to India (1874)

Kitchen and dining

All of the food for residents and staff was bought in and prepared at the hospital. The kitchen was in the basement and had a large steam boiler that was used for cooking.

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From work records at Pleiestiftelsen. Regional State Archives of Bergen.

The residents’ work

All residents had to work according to their strength and ability, and this provided income and ensured peace and order. Many residents also enjoyed working.

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Pleiestiftelsen with garden, from invitation to anniversary event in 1957. Photo: Bergen City Museum.


Almost the entire grounds became ‘a garden and paths where the sick could walk’. A kitchen garden was also made where they grew, among other things, onions, swedes and carrots.

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Pasient records, Pleiestiftelsen Hospital. Regional State Archives of Bergen.

Children at the hospital

Not much is known about how the children spent their days at Pleiestiftelsen Hospital, but there are a few clues in the archive material – including their mischievous acts and being grounded.

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School protocol, Pleiestiftelsen hospital. Photo: Ingfrid Bækken. Bergen City Archives.


The girls and boys were taught separately and the subjects in which they were graded included reading, object lessons, Bible history, catechism, Norwegian grammar and arithmetic.

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The residents at Pleiestiftelsen

During the 100 years that the hospital was running, more than 2,000 people moved into the hospital and called the institution home, either for a short or long period of time. Some people spent the rest of their lives living at the hospital, while others moved back home or to other institutions. Many would have wanted to leave, while others probably felt the hospital was the best place for them once they were ill. Some may have had hope of recovery, but only the very last residents experienced being cured.

From "Tabeller over de spedalske i Norge".

The number of residents

The number of residents gradually declined, but more than 2,000 people at some point called the hospital their home, either for a short or long period of time. Patient number 6, who moved into the hospital in 1857, stayed there for 60 years.

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Overview of applicants from Voss to the Pleiestiftelsen hospital. Bergen City Archives.

Who was admitted?

The people who moved into the hospital were of various ages and had different stages of the disease. Some did so by choice, while for others it was on the initiative of their family, local community or district medical officer. A few people were admitted under duress.

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From .application for admission to Pleiestiftelsen. Regional State Archives of Bergen.

Applications for admission

A number of applications for admission are preserved in the archives. Some are written by the afflicted themselves or a family member, while others are sent by parish pastors, district medical officers or others.

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Overview of leave/home journeys for residents at the Pleiestiftelsen hospital. Regional State Archives of Bergen.

Home visits and escapes

Residents could have visitors and be granted permission to run errands in the city. Many suffered from homesickness, especially in the first few years. A number of residents were allowed to visit their families for a few weeks at a time, while others ran away.

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The Pleiestiftelsen hospital and nearby cemetery. Cropped photo: Marcus Selmer. University of Bergen Library.

Leaving Pleiestiftelsen

The majority of those admitted to Pleiestiftelsen lived there until they died, but that was not always the case. Some applied to be transferred to other hospitals, some were allowed to return home, some ran away, and some were expelled.

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Bottles from the old laboratory at Pleiestiftelsen, now part of Hansens Commemorative Rooms. Photo: Bergen City Museum. Objects belong to the Bergen Collections on the History of Medicine.

Hope of recovery?

Even before Pleiestiftelsen was defined as a sanatorium in 1895, it was held that early-stage cases of the disease could be cured with scrupulous hygiene and a healthy diet. However, most people did not hold much hope of recovery.

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H. P Lie at the laboratory in Pleiestiftelsen hospital. Photo: Lepramuseet St. Jørgens Hospital.

Curative trials – a choice?

Not all patients were interested in participating in curative trials, and the doctors often struggled to conduct consistent treatment over time. It is clear that patients could, to a certain extent, decide what treatment they would receive.

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Nurse at Pleiestiftelsen hospital. Cropped photo: Atelier Knud Knudsen. University of Bergen Library. Section.


Pleiestiftelsen usually had around 20 staff and many of them lived on site. The payroll included a physician, a superintendent, a chaplain, a household manager, nurses, kitchen maids, cleaning maids, a cup setter, a messenger, a hired hand, a porter and a stoker.

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Armauer Hansen Commemorative Rooms

The Armauer Hansen Commemorative Rooms was officially opened on 12 February 1962, on the 50th anniversary of Hansen’s death. The memorial room is situated at the end of the south wing of what was Pleiestiftelsen for Spedalske No. 1. It consists of one of the old stairwells, a former hospital room and parts of the corridors on the first floor that were fitted out as a laboratory and library in 1895.

Based on its name, it’s easy to assume that the laboratory and library were Hansen’s, but it was mainly H. P. Lie and Reidar Melsom who were in charge when doctors were using these rooms, Lie from 1895 to 1935 and Melsom from 1935 to 1957.

Laboratory. Photo: Bergen City Museum.

Relocation of the library/laboratory in 1895

From 1895, Pleiestiftelsen started to change from being a care institution to also conducting curative trials and scientific research, which had previously been associated with Lungegård Hospital. The library and the laboratory were also moved.

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Appointment of Danielssen as chief physician in 1846. University of Bergen Library.

Creation of the rooms in the 1960s

The Commemorative Rooms opened five years after the last doctor moved out of the office and laboratory. By then, the scientific works, awards and personal items belonging to Hansen had been collected, which are displayed in two glass cases.

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Screen shot from 3D-model, library.

The Commemorative Rooms today

Minnerommet står i dag relativt uendret siden åpningen i 1962, men bygningen og det veggfaste interiøret er nå fredet. Minnerommet er normalt ikke tilgjengelig for besøk, men kan oppleves gjennom virtuelle modeller.

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Portrait Armauer Hansen. Leprosy Museum St. Jørgen's Hospital.

Where was the leprosy bacteria discovered?

Many people imagine that the bacteria was identified at St. Jørgen’s Hospital or in what is now the Armauer Hansen Commemorative Rooms. In all likelihood, however, it was probably discovered at Lungegård Hospital, which was demolished in 1953.

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