Saint George is the patron saint of sufferers from leprosy, as well as plague and syphilis.
London's St James's Park was a swampy wasteland in the early 16th century, used as a hospital for female lepers.
His smile explained everything: he carried it always with him as a leper carried his bell; it was a perpetual warning that he was not to be trusted.
Lepers were forced to live separately for centuries – but for religious reasons, not medical ones. In Europe, they were legally forbidden to marry, make a will or appear in court - and were only allowed to talk to a non-leper if they stood downwind. In the Old Testament, God himself instructs Moses to 'put out of the camp every leper'. This was because leprosy was regarded as a punishment rather than an infectious disease: it was an outer 'uncleanness' caused by inner sin, something that God would smite you with if you harboured lustful or heretical thoughts. It was the priest, not the doctor, who declared you a leper.
Until the mid-14th century the bells and rattles carried by lepers were intended to attract donations rather than warn people off, especially if the leper had lost his voice and couldn’t shout like other beggars. At the time there was little fear of lepers and we know that they were enthusiastic ringers of their bells because there were local laws which specifically forbade them from doing so.
There was a change of attitude to disease around the time of the Black Death, and sick people became objects of fear; after that time, lepers were indeed made to carry bells as a warning. In late medieval times it was thought that leprosy could be spread by the glance of a leper, or an unseen leper standing upwind of you.
Contrary to popular belief, Hansen's disease does not cause rotting of the flesh, although extremities may become numb due to nerve damage and this may lead to minor infected wounds going unnoticed until permanent damage has occurred.
Other than humans, the only animals known to be susceptible to leprosy are armadillos and mice, on their footpads.
The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted.