Place’s story

Jerusalem in the 19th Century

In the early 19th century, Jerusalem, a city sacred to the three monotheistic religions, was a rundown city on the periphery of the Ottoman Empire. The growing involvement of European powers in the region during the 19th century, and the competition to control it, led to the establishment of a wide range of institutions that impacted religious life, culture, education, the economy, and health conditions in the city. The local population, which previously only had access to folk medicine, began enjoying modern medical treatment in institutions established by various European bodies. Beginning in the mid-19th century, 19 hospitals were established in Jerusalem; among them was the first leper asylum, which was founded in 1867 by the Joint Anglican-German Protestant Community in Jerusalem. 



The German Baroness Augusta von Kefenbrinck Ascheraden, who visited Jerusalem with her husband, was deeply shaken by the lepers begging at the city gates, and took upon herself to establish an asylum for them. With the funds raised by the baroness in Europe, the Joint German-Anglican Protestant Church in Jerusalem purchased a plot of land in the vicinity of the Mamilla Pool.



The asylum built on this plot was inaugurated in a festive ceremony. The beggars at the city gates were invited to live free of charge at the asylum, where they would receive food, clothes, and medical treatment, but only a small number of them accepted the offer. Most of the lepers, who were Muslim, feared losing their independence, as well as facing attempts to convert them to Christianity. The Moravian Church, which had gained experience in treating lepers in South Africa, approved the baroness’ request to appoint a House Father to attend to the lepers in the asylum built in the Holy Land. 


1875 – The Ottoman building is constructed in Bir Ayub

The Ottoman authorities in Jerusalem sought to distance the remaining beggars at the city gates. To this end they constructed a building in Bir Ayub, in the vicinity of Kfar Hashiloach, and forced the beggars to move there. The beggars were required to pay an entrance free, received no medical care, and were only given bread and water. Many of them repeatedly attempted to be admitted to the asylum, yet did not comply with its rules and were sent back to Bir Ayub. Up to the 1930s, the asylum served as a home for those in need of food, clothing and medical treatment, and as a shelter for women who were physically abused by their husbands. 



 The Moravian Church assumed full responsibility for, and ownership of, the asylum. The growth in the number of lepers, and the vicinity to the beggars at Jaffa Gate, led to the decision to construct a larger asylum at a distance from the city walls, on the site of a vineyard acquired by the Moravian Church in 1874. 



The Moravian Church

The Moravian Church was established as an independent Protestant church in 1457 in Moravia (present-day Czech Republic). It was founded by the followers of Jan Hus, one of the first Protestant reformers, and was originally called Unitas Fratrum (Latin for “Unity of the Brethren”). Its members suffered persecution and thus dispersed throughout Europe, secretly preserving their faith. In 1722, a group of refugees was granted permission to settle in Saxony, Germany, where they reestablished the church and named it after their country of origin, Moravia. They founded a new village, Herrnhut, where they established a community with a unique social and religious structure, headed by a board of elders. The community was predicated upon purity and righteousness, mutual responsibility, manual labor and modesty. Its members were called “brothers and sisters,” and were educated in separate institutions prior to marriage. In this spirit, additional communities were established in numerous countries. The Moravian Church was the first Protestant Church to embark on missionary activities as early as 1732. Today, the Church numbers about one million members worldwide. 

1885- The Jesus’ Hilfe Asyl, (Jesus' Help Asylum) 1885

Ceremonial laying of the cornerstone for the Jesus’ Hilfe Asyl.

The new asylum, Jesus’ Hilfe, which was known locally as the “Leper Home,” was planned by the German architect Conrad Schick. 



Inauguration of the new asylum Jesus’ Hilfe, in the presence of the Ottoman governor of Jerusalem and representatives of the city’s different communities. 

The leper asylum, the only asylum of its kind in the Middle East, was a private establishment funded by donations from supporters of the Moravian Church worldwide. It was considered to be a progressive institution, and was viewed as a flagship enterprise of the Moravian Church, serving as a model for  similar institutions elsewhere in the world.

Who were the residents of the asylum?

The residents of the asylum, including both patients and staff, usually numbered 30–50 people. The patients belonged to all sectors of the population. Two thirds of the patients were men, and the rest were women and children of different ages. Most of the patients were Muslim Arabs, some of them were Christians from different communities, and several were Jews. The asylum was run according to clearly established rules and regulations: voluntary hospitalization, separation between men and women, and obedience to the staff. The establishment’s staff included the House father and nurses, who came from Germany and lived on the premises; a doctor who visited the asylum once a week; and local helpers. The staff members cared with great devotion and compassion for the patients, who suffered from a disease that was considered incurable, while coping with difficult physical conditions and with significant religious and cultural differences. A meeting was held every morning in the prayer room, yet due to language difficulties and fear of religious preaching, only a few of the patients attended. When a minister who spoke Arabic was appointed to the asylum, the number of attendants at the morning meetings grew. Nevertheless, only a small number of patients converted to Christianity. 


The Nurses

The first deaconess* nurse arrived at the asylum in 1874 in order to help the hospital House father administer to the patients. In 1880–1952, about 50 nurses arrived at the asylum. They were all deaconesses who had graduated from the Emmaus training institution of the Moravian Church in Germany, and who had volunteered to serve in Jerusalem. As the number of patients grew, the nurses began taking on additional roles at the asylum. Beginning in 1908, a matron, accompanied by three to five additional nurses, was in charge of administrating services at the asylum, which also included the guest house in the building established in 1909 to the west of the main building. 

* In the course of the 19th century, Protestant institutions were established in Europe to offer professional training to unmarried women. The deaconesses were provided with economic security, and served as teachers and nurses around the world, while working to spread their faith

How did the asylum function?

The asylum provided many of its own needs: the premises included four water cisterns, as well as a fruit orchard, a vegetable garden, and farm animals. The patients worked  as part of their treatment, while contributing in this manner to the asylum’s maintenance. They drew water, participated in household tasks such as cleaning and laundering and in the maintenance of the building, and tended to the garden and animals. 

In contrast to the common belief, the asylum was not a closed institution: patients, most of whom were hospitalized for long periods, were allowed to leave the premises, and their relatives were allowed to visit. The staff members made an effort to create a home-like atmosphere at the asylum. During their leisure time, the patients played ball games, flew kites, played music, and read religious scriptures. The nurses’ birthdays were celebrated with the patients, and Christmas celebrations included guests and personal gifts for the patients. In 1896, following the receipt of a special donation, the patients and staff members embarked on a train trip to Jaffa, where they stayed for several days. Following this first trip outside the city, the patients and staff departed on annual trips to the Dead Sea, the Jordan Valley, or Hebron.


1914–1917 - The First World War

During the First World War, Jerusalem came under military rule. The Ottoman Empire joined the Triple Alliance (Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Italy), and the city’s connection with the Triple Entente (Britain, France and Russia) was completely severed. The asylum’s farm was closed down, the entire city suffered from a severe lack of, food, cash and fuel; the walls of the asylum were destroyed, a railroad track was laid on its premises.



Following the First World War, responsibility for the asylum was transferred from the central administration of the Moravian Church in Germany to the British province of the Moravian Church. The asylum was supervised by the local committee of members of the Lutheran Church in Jerusalem. Under the British Mandate, which began with the British conquest of Jerusalem in 1917, the number of Jewish patients at the asylum gradually grew. Rabbi Aryeh Levin provided them with kosher food, and they were visited by members of the Jewish National Council. In 1929, with the outbreak of violent confrontations between Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem, the tension was also felt at the asylum.

1939–1945 - The Second World War

Following the declaration of war between the Axis powers (Germany, Italy and Japan) and the Allies (Britain, the United States, France and Russia), the German nurses at the asylum became the subjects of an enemy country. They were not deported like most German citizens, but were put under curfew. With British consent, the asylum became a meeting and prayer place for German subjects remaining in Jerusalem. The Leper Home suffered a severe shortage of staff members and financial distress, and relied on volunteers in order to sustain itself.

1948- War of Independence

1948 – During the War of Independence and the difficult battles in the area, the asylum was hit by gunfire. The church administration let the nurses decide whether to stay at the hospital or leave. They chose to stay, and hung the emblem of the Red Cross at the entrance to the asylum in order to ward off further attacks. When the neighborhood was taken over by the forces of the Haganah, most of the Arab patients and some of the staff members left the asylum. 



Due to ongoing budgetary problems, the advancement in the medical treatment of leprosy, and the growing number of Jewish patients, the Moravian Church decided to sell the entire complex to the Jewish National Fund..

1950- The Hansen Government Hospital

Following the sale of the complex to the KKL, the asylum came under the administration of the Israeli Ministry of Health, and was renamed “The Hansen Government Hospital.” The European staff was replaced by a staff appointed by the ministry, and the medical administration was transferred to the Dermatology Department at Hadassah Hospital, which had become involved in activities at the asylum as early as the 1930’s. The waves of immigration to Israel led to an increase in the number of Jewish patients. Changes were made to the building, and a synagogue was established on the premises, servicing the patients until 2000. 

2000- The Hansen Government Hospital closes

Following the sale of the complex to the KKL, the asylum came under the administration of the Israeli Ministry of Health, and was renamed “The Hansen Government Hospital.” The European staff was replaced by a staff appointed by the ministry, and the medical administration was transferred to the Dermatology Department at Hadassah Hospital, which had become involved in activities at the asylum as early as the 1930s. The waves of immigration to Israel led to an increase in the number of Jewish patients. Changes were made to the building, and a synagogue was established on the premises, servicing the patients until 2000.


 The historical exhibition “Beyond the Wall” opens in the complex, documenting the history of the leper asylum. On Jerusalem Day of that year, at the request of Jerusalem’s mayor at the time, the Israeli government decided to transfer the complex to the municipality, in order to transform it into a public cultural center. The Jerusalem Development Authority appointed to oversee this project. 


The building’s restoration and preservation was assigned to the Ran Wolf Company. The process was undertaken in accordance with the original building plan, in an attempt to fully preserve its original character.

2013 – Hansen house for design, media and technology

 Hansen House opens as a cultural center for design, media and technology.