Albert Schweitzer – Jungle Saint

Day 120 of Colourisation Project – September 4

Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.

On this day, 4 September 1965, the world lost Albert Schweitzer, a German/French theologian, philosopher of ethics, musicologist, organ technician, physician, surgeon, medical missionary in Africa and winner of the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize.

Albert Schweitzer

Photographer Unknown:  Albert Schweitzer  1952. –  Coloured by Loredana Crupi

His New York Times obituary in 1965  summed him up well.

    “Compared to Goethe, on whose life and works he was an expert, Schweitzer came near to being a comprehensive man. To a marked degree, Schweitzer was an eclectic. Franco-German yet cosmopolitan in culture, he drew deeply from the music and philosophy of the 18th century, especially Bach, Goethe and Kant.
    At the same time, he was a child of the 19th century, accepting its creature comforts yet rejecting its complacent attitudes toward progress. In line with the 20th century he sought to put religion on a rational footing and to accept the advances of science; yet he was a foe to materialism and to the century’s criteria for personal success.”

To many in Africa he was considered a jungle saint, a modern-day Christ. Schweitzer however spurned such praise. As a Lutheran, he challenged both the secular view of Jesus as well as the traditional Christian view, believing that his spiritual life was its own reward and that works redeemed him.

It was not until the age of 30 that he decided to become a doctor and devote the rest of his life to direct service in Africa.  In 1913, at the age of 37, Dr. Schweitzer and his wife, Hélène, opened a hospital built with corrugated iron, in Lambaréné, Gabon – then a province of French Equatorial Africa, after briefly occupying a shed formerly used as a chicken hut.

In Lambaréné, Schweitzer was doctor and surgeon in the hospital, pastor of a congregation, administrator of a village, superintendent of buildings and grounds, writer of scholarly books, commentator on contemporary history, musician and host to countless visitors.

People often forget that Schweitzer had a distinguished musical career and was recognized internationally as a concert organist.  From his professional engagements he earned funds for his medical education and later for his hospital. With donations and funds earned from his musical royalties, professional engagements and appearance fees, Schweitzer was able to expand the hospital to seventy buildings which by the early 1960’s could take care of over 500 patients in residence at any one time.

Schweitzer studied the music of German composer Johann Sebastian Bach becoming a world authority on the musician.  In 1905 he wrote a biography of Bach in French and three years later in German. He was also very influential in the Organ reform movement (Orgelbewegung) and published a book on organ building and playing in 1906.

He received the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize at the age of 78, for his philosophy of Reverence for Life, the basic tenet of an ethical philosophy, which he developed and put into practice.  The Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Lambaréné, which he founded 39 years earlier is testament to his philosophy.

Schweitzer was a prolific writer and wrote on diverse theological and philosophical subjects including The Quest of the Historical Jesus, On the Edge of the Primeval Forest, The Decay and Restoration of Civilization, The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle, Civilization and Ethics, and Christianity and the Religions of the World, Peace or Atomic War?, as well as his own story, Out of My Life and Thought: An Autobiography.

During the last twelve years of his life, his speeches and writings emphasized the dangers of atmospheric nuclear test explosions and the suicidal nuclear arms race between the superpowers.

After retiring as a practicing doctor, Albert Schweitzer continued to oversee the hospital until his death at the age of 90 in 1965. Hospital workers, lepers, cripples and other patients gathered in Lambaréné in the jungle heat as Schweitzer’s body was lowered into the ground in a brief and simple ceremony. His grave on the banks of the Ogooue River is marked by a cross he made himself.

Schweitzer considered his ethic of Reverence for Life, not his Hospital, his most important legacy, saying that his Lambaréné Hospital was just “my own improvisation on the theme of Reverence for Life. Everyone can have their own Lambaréné.”

After winning the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize, Schweitzer used the $33,000 prize money to establish a  leprosarium at Lambaréné. The honors he received were numerous, including the Goethe Prize of Frankfurt and many honorary doctorates from many universities emphasizing one or another of his achievements.

Schweitzer was indeed a man who walked the talk!


“Ethics is nothing other than Reverence for Life. Reverence for Life affords me my fundamental principle of morality, namely, that good consists in maintaining, assisting and enhancing life, and to destroy, to harm or to hinder life is evil.”   –  Albert Schweitzer

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