Philadelphe Delord, the friend
of the lepers (1869-1947)

In 1926 pastor Philadelphe Delord founded, with the help of the Institut Pasteur, the first sanatorium for lepers in the charterhouse in Valbonne, in the Gard. The establishment won international fame, and housed several hundreds of sick people between 1929 and 2003.

A pastor and a missionary

  • Pasteur Philadelphe Delord (à droite sur la photo) © Thierry Pellecuer

Philadelphe Delord was born in the Gard region in 1869 in an old Protestant family. After studying theology in Geneva, he became a pastor in 1892 in the free Churches at Florac and Marseille.

He was appointed to the Missions Evangéliques de Paris -SMEP- (Paris evangelical missions). He left them in 1897 to become a missionary in Maré, an island in the Loyalty archipelago, near New Caledonia. He stayed there until 1910.

The archipelago was evangelized by the Mission Society of London, and became French in 1853. Delord was the first French missionary. With the help of the natas, native shepherds, he achieved a lot: he organised the Church, founded churches, started evangelizing the Grande Terre (main island), created schools, printed books among which the Bible in nengone, the language of Maré.

Serving the lepers in Oceania (1898-1910)

  • Chaulmoogra (plante) © Thierry Pellucuer

In 1898, he visited the leprosarium of Ha Athoua (which means “it is finished”) and was deeply affected. He was moved by the destitution and abandonment of the sick. He decided to take care of them and to fight leprosy called “la kabari”. He gave hygiene advice, collected food and clothes, and had two leprosariums built.

In 1907, he managed to have the preparation aïouni (fulfilled) finalised. Delord mixed edible oil (olive oil?) with chaulmoogra oil. The latter obtained by pressing the fruit of a tropical tree, the hydnocarpus wightiana. Until 1945 there was no other treatment for lepers. The trials with aïouni were conclusive: wounds healed, several sick people got a job, some were even declared clear (not contagious).

From Lausanne to the charterhouse in Valbonne (1910-1935)

  • Chartreuse de Valbonne (30) © Michel Widmer

In 1910, Delord came back to Europe with his family. He settled in Lausanne where he was appointed as an agent of the SMEP for French Switzerland until 1918. During that time, he continued taking care of the lepers, making and giving out aïouni, and delivering lectures.

At the beginning of the 20th century, fighting leprosy became a priority in French colonies in Africa, Oceania and Indochina. In France the sick, amounting to about several hundreds, were hospitalised in large cities such as Paris, Marseille, Bordeaux… but there were no specialised centres to treat them.

In 1922, Philadelphe Delord founded the Comité de Secours aux Lépreux (committee for helping lepers) in collaboration with the SMEP. It was in charge of four leprosariums, i.e. Manakavaly in Madagascar, Orofara in Tahiti, Chila in Lifou and Bethesda in Maré

In 1926, he created the ASVMT or Association de Secours aux Victimes des Maladies Tropicales (Association to help victims of tropical diseases) which continued the action of the Committee, and they bought the Charterhouse in Valbonne, near Pont-Saint-Esprit (Gard), to treat French lepers. Despite huge difficulties, Delord managed the sanatorium, which opened in 1929 until 1934, and then he retired in 1935. He died in Valbonne in 1947. He was buried alongside his wife in the garden of the charterhouse. On his tomb a verse of the apostle Paul was engraved: “None of us lives to himself.”

Pastor Philadelphe Delord played a crucial role, recognised by the medical profession, in the fight against leprosy. In 1956 Raoul Follereau, another “friend of the lepers” paid homage to him during a visit to the charterhouse in Valbonne: “the first establishment opened in France to take in the sick.”

The ASVMT still exists and takes care of the mentally ill.

Author: Thierry Pellecuer

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