Portrait of the Week #27: Cornwall Legh

 

Mary Helena Cornwall Legh (1857 – 1941) (hereafter Cornwall Legh) came to Japan in 1907, at the age of fifty, as an unpaid missionary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG). She devoted herself to the relief of people afflicted with Hansen’s disease (leprosy) at Yunosawa in the town of Kutsatsu, Gumma Prefecture. The Japanese Government awarded her the Medal of the Blue Ribbon in 1928 and the Sixth Order of the Sacred Treasure in 1939 for her great services in the relief of Hansen’s disease sufferers in Japan. However, for all her remarkable contribution to mutual understanding between Britain and Japan, facts about Cornwall Legh and her devotional work are little known in Japan or Britain . . .

. . . St. Barnabas’ Mission was not merely designed to help the sufferers with Hansen’s disease. It aimed to ensure that the people of Yunosawa could live in amity and on equal terms with their neighbours in Kutsatsu and the rest of Japan. The Mission was based on the desire for the resurrection of the afflicted in a world where none would suffer discrimination.

Where Yunosawa used to be, there is now a fine municipal hot-spring farm house frequented by local people and tourists. In Cornwall Legh Memorial Park, which is on the hill overlooking the former site of Yunosawa, there stand a portrait bust of Cornwall Legh and a stone monument commemorating her great achievements. The cinerarium of St. Barnabas’, Kusatsu, and its plot, which are a little away from the hot-spring house, are always kept clean and tidy by a volunteer group of the town. However, only a few people visit the park or the cinerarium.

Both the bustling area where Yunosawa used to be and the hushed areas where Cornwall Legh Memorial Park and the cinerarium are located remind us of the history of great hardships of the Hansen’s disease sufferers and the importance of respect for human dignity.

This is an extract from a biography by Michiko Nakamura. The full biographies for each Portrait of the Week are contained in the Japan Society series Biographical Portraits (Vols. I – VIII). If you would like to purchase any of these volumes, they can be found online in the Japan Society Shop, with a special discount for members.

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