The history of Batavia,
a place with an infected, but also wonderful past.
Batavia is first depicted by cartographer G. Mabé on a map as a location about 12.5 km south of the point where the Saramacca River flows into the Coppenamerivier. Later, Governor Cateau van Rosevelt made a very detailed and accurate map of the entire Saramacca district, onto which Batavia is clearly indicated.
In the early 19th century Batavia was a military post that was part of the ‘Cordon Road’. This path served to prevent slaves from fleeing from the north to the free south and to prevent refugees from stealing from the plantations in the north. Until 1824, to prevent an outbreak of leprosy, lepers were isolated at the plantation Voorzorg, but from 1824 Batavia was designated as the location to isolate lepers. The Roman Catholic Mission in Suriname was assigned a piece of land to assist the lepers. A church was built and a cemetery laid out. The government build a doctor’s house, nursing home and director’s house and of course huts were set up for the patients. The lepers lived there under pitiful conditions in pine huts built without floors. Although the Roman Catholic Mission, Father Donders worked there for 27 years, did the outmost, Batavia remained a hell for many, the gate to the inevitable death.
In 1897 Batavia was closed, the remaining lepers were transferred to Groot Chatillon, another plantation in Suriname. Batavia was completely burned down to prevent a further outbreak of leprosy. Inadvertently, the church and the doctor’s house were also lost.
In 1913, Peter Donders, who died on January 14 1887, was declared reverential because of his wonderful commitment to Batavia. That’s why Batavia has always remained a special place. Peter Donders was born in Tilburg in the Netherlands, and it is especially the people of Tilburg that highly valuated Peerke, as he was called by them.
Nevertheless, Batavia could not be prevented from falling into decline until the year 2000. With the help of third parties, including the foundation Jacques de Leeuw from Tilburg, Monseigneur Wilhelmus de Bekker was given the opportunity to revive Batavia. The infrastructure was restored and in 2001 a new chapel was built, designed by Philip Dikland. In 2006, artist Leo Wong Loi Sing created 14 statues.
In September 2016 it was decided to transfer the management of Batavia as pilgrimage to a foundation called Foundation Devotion Petrus Donders. After months of preparation, the foundation began a remake of Batavia, which is now not only a beautiful pilgrimage place in 2017, but it is also a nice tourist attraction. A permanent exhibition about Batavia, Petrus Donders and leprosy has been set up in ‘t Pelgrimshuis’, the pilgrim house.
On January 14, 2017, Batavia was reopened on the occasion of Petrus Donders passing away 130 years ago.
A visit to Batavia can only be arranged by appointment or by pilgrimage, which will be organized on the last Saturday of each month. Please refer to the pilgrimage agenda for more information.