The Jerusalem Syndrome

By Bar-El, Carlos | The Israel Journal of Psychiatry and Related Sciences, January 1, 1998 | Go to article overview

The Jerusalem Syndrome


Bar-El, Carlos, The Israel Journal of Psychiatry and Related Sciences


In Jerusalem every stone is holy for some people. The Jerusalem Syndrome refers to a group of patients who have traveled to Israel from abroad and have become mentally ill while visiting Jerusalem. Generally such patients are admitted to one particular psychiatric hospital in Jerusalem, namely Kfar Shaul. Their diagnoses are similar to those admitted to psychiatric hospitals as a whole, the majority suffering from psychotic illness: 40% are from the United States, 40% from Western Europe and the remainder from other countries. Two-thirds are Jewish and one-third of non-Jewish descent. It is notable that of patients of Christian belief, the Jerusalem Syndrome is more common among Protestants than Catholics. The Protestants suffering from the Syndrome tend to have a strong family background of Bible reading and Christian teaching. Possible reasons for it being more common in Protestants than Catholics include the greater emphasis on individualism in Protestantism and that for Protestants the sole main figure is of Jesus, whereas in Catholicism there are various others. As Jerusalem is a center of spiritualism and mysticism, its intensity seems to be able to overwhelm such patients whose feelings cannot be contained. The Jerusalem Syndrome has been compared with a similar syndrome occurring in Florence in Italy where some visitors become mentally ill when in the environment of priceless works of art. …

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