Winchester residents took part in a special pilgrimage last week.

Several dozen walked from Winchester Cathedral to the site of Britain’s oldest-known leprosy hospital in Magdalen Hill last Thursday to raise awareness of the disease.

It was organised by a team of archaeologists from the University of Winchester supporting The Leprosy Mission which provides medical care, education and job training to three million leprosy sufferers across the world.

Special purple ribbon badges were sold on the day as well, bearing a scallop shell symbol of the pilgrimage, raising around £200 for the charity.

St Mary Magdalen Hospital at Magdalen Hill has been excavated for the past four years with 70 per cent of bodies found to have evidence of leprosy.

Dr Phil Marter, university archaeologist and one of the organisers of the walk, said: “The project at Magdalen Hill represents the most extensive excavations of a medieval leprosy hospital and cemetery in the country. Evidence suggests the leprosy patients were very well looked after, and were drawn from all levels of society.

“This unique find has inspired the idea of a charitable pilgrimage in memory of the community of St Mary Magdalen Hospital.

Natalie Husk, area organiser for The Leprosy Mission, added: “There was a wonderful atmosphere on the pilgrimage and as we approached Magdalen Hill it was as if we’d stepped back to a time when those affected by leprosy were living and cared for in this place by the road from Winchester to London.”

The disease causes nerve damage which, left untreated, can lead to blindness and major injuries requiring amputation of the limbs.