Amish-American Ephrata Cloister…in The Newcomer by Suzanne Woods Fisher
One of the things I love most about writing is finding untold stories. In Ephrata, Pennsylvania, there is a beautiful National Historic Landmark called Ephrata Cloister—easy to overlook but it is well worth a visit—it has a rich and fascinating Utopian history.
One of America’s earliest religious communities, the Ephrata Cloister was founded in 1732 by German settlers seeking spiritual goals rather than earthly rewards. Gathered in unique European style buildings, the community consisted of celibate Brothers and Sisters, and a married congregation of families.
These German settlers fit into the Amish story—as they were made up of Anabaptists and Pietists (all branches of the same religious tree)—seeking a life pleasing to God as best they knew how.
The leader, Conrad Biessel, was a charismatic minister with radical ideas. His theology, a hybrid of pietism and mysticism, encouraged celibacy, Sabbath worship, Anabaptism, and the ascetic life, yet provided room for families, limited industry, and creative expression. Music was an integral part of worship. The community became known for its self-composed a cappella music.
Conrad Biessel imported a German printing press so that books could be printed using a Germanic calligraphy known as Frakturschriften. Eventually, the Cloister built a complete publishing center which included a paper mill, printing office, and book bindery. Printer Benjamin Franklin frequented Ephrata Cloister.
Believing the Second Coming of Christ was imminent, Biessel and his devoted followers led a very Spartan life—they slept on narrow wooden planks, ate a light diet, responded to calls to worship in the middle of the night. A curious side note—the Sisters and Brothers of Ephrata Cloister had a longer life span than most in that time.
At its peak in the 1740s and 1750s, about 300 members worked and worshiped at the Cloister. After Biessel died, the community declined.
Today, the National Historic Landmark is open for tours, special programs, and on-going research opportunities. Find out more about this fascinating part of American history: http://www.ephratacloister.org.
Plus, click here to enter to win an Amish Beginnings Set (Anna’s Crossing and The Newcomer) by Suzanne Woods Fisher!
Source: Unser Leit, The Story of the Amish