Information

Preserving the Historical Heritage of Spain’s Fontilles

The history of leprosy contains many lessons for succeeding generations, including insights into treatment and care, on integrating people with stigmatized diseases and those with disabilities into the community, and on the importance of protecting human rights.

The Sasakawa Health Foundation supports activities to preserve not only the medical history of leprosy, but also the history of the disease’s social impact. In particular, we support efforts that illuminate the lives of those leprosy has affected, among them people who have experienced life in leprosy sanatoriums.

Preserving records and memories associated with sanatoriums is a matter of urgency, given that such facilities are falling into disuse or being repurposed, and that their resident populations are fast declining due to old age.

Spain has had two leprosy sanatoriums in its history: the privately-run San Francisco de Borja Sanatorium (commonly known as Fontilles), which opened in 1909, and the state-run Trillo sanatorium, which opened in 1943. Trillo closed in the late 1990s as patient numbers declined and its remaining residents were transferred to Fontilles. Today, Fontilles is known as the Fontilles Social-Health Complex, home to a hospital, geriatric center and the national leprosy reference center.

Since 2017, Sasakawa Health Foundation has been working with the Fontilles Foundation and the University of Alicante to support the historical preservation of leprosy at Fontilles. The sanatorium was like a small town and the buildings there tell its history—among them medical wards, a pharmacy, and a research lab as well as living quarters, a theater, laundry, bar, and chapel.

The Fontilles archives contain more than 5,000 historical materials including medical records, epidemiological reports, research documents, photographs, letters and government papers, as well as historical artifacts such medical equipment and daily-use items.

In the first (two-year) phase of conservation efforts from 2017, SHF supported the preservation of historical materials and the recording of testimonies of sanatorium residents. In the second (three-year) phase from 2019, we have continued our support for material and artifact preservation while extending work of gathering testimonies to include persons affected by leprosy and medical staff no longer at Fontilles, as well as former patients and staff of Trillo sanatorium.

These conservation activities represent an important contribution to preserving and passing on the history of leprosy in Spain. In addition, by making these historical materials available on the Fontilles website and the Miguel de Cervantes Digital Library of the University of Alicante, we hope they will be a valuable resource for researchers in related fields such as sociology, medical history and architecture, and encourage interdisciplinary research.

An overview of Fontilles today

Major Activities in 2020 (1)
Preserving and digitizing historical materials, uploading to website

In the first phase, the plan was to digitize materials stored in the Fontilles archives, create a computer search system and also make these materials available through the largest digital library in the Spanish-speaking world[A]. In addition, the digitized materials are also being stored in the public-access archives of the Alicante Provincial Council[B]. Some of the materials are already available in the digital library and the work of adding to the collection continues.

[A] Miguel de Cervantes Digital Library

Contents: Photos, drawings, books, testimonies, etc.

URL: http//www.cervantesvirtual.com/portales/fontilles_y_la_lepra_en_espana/

Miguel de Cervantes Digital Library: the largest digital library in the Spanish-speaking world

[B] Archivo de la Diputacion Provincial de Alicante

Contents: All historical materials

URL: http://www.archivo.diputacionalicante.es/consulta_documentos.htm

Major Activities in 2020 (2)
Preserving historical artifacts, recording testimonies

With the outbreak of the global coronavirus pandemic, historical preservation activities at Fontilles were restricted to protect elderly residents from infection, with access from the outside limited to those employed at the complex. Nevertheless, some tasks were completed, including safeguarding artifacts by transferring them from former research labs to proper storage facilities that were made fit for purpose. In addition, the work of recording testimony from persons affected by leprosy and medical personnel living outside the sanatorium, as well as former patients and staff of Trillo sanatorium, continued.

In 2021, the final year of our Phase 2 support, there are plans to hold an exhibition based on the historical materials that have been collected and preserved, in cooperation with López Piñero,  a joint research organization of the National University of Medical Sciences.

For more information about the historical heritage of Fontilles, visit:
https://fundacionfontilles.org/the-foundation/historical-heritage/?lang=en