I spent an absolutely gorgeous afternoon at a most interesting place called the Ephrata Cloister in Pennsylvania. I really had no idea what I would find at this location, since I had not researched it beforehand, but as I was passing through the town of Ephrata, I saw it and decided to stop. I’m so glad I did!
There is a fascinating history to this place, and you can certainly read it in detail at the Ephrata Cloister website, but I will give you a very streamlined version. Conrad Beissel was born in Germany in 1691, during a time when there was a lot of war, devastation, and religious upheaval. He was introduced in Germany to a group called Pietists, who did not believe in the state supported churches. Conrad was persecuted for following their ways and was banished from Germany. He came to America, knowing of a place founded by William Penn that promised religious freedom.
In the U.S., Beissel had a number of followers who believed as he did that the path to Christ (and therefore heaven) was made easier if one prepared now by living a celibate life, praying, and meeting only basic human needs (other than sex, of course). He began to fall away from his followers, so he came to the area in 1732 around the Cocalico Creek in northern Lancaster County, seeking to live the life of a religious hermit. However, followers being what they are, they followed.
Buildings went up to support the followers. The groups consisted of celibate women, celibate men, and married families, known as the Homesteaders. They built up a thriving community with dormitories, houses, mills, a bakery, and meeting houses. Their day consisted of rising at 5 a.m. for prayer; work from 6 – 9; prayer from 9-10; work from 10 – noon; prayer from noon to one; work from 1-5; prayer from 5-6; dinner at 6 (finally — their only meal of the day!) more prayer; bed at 9; sleep from 9 – midnight; prayer meetings from midnight to 2 a.m., and then sleep from 3-5. Every day. Also, Beissel believed in keeping the followers as ready for wakefulness as possible, so they slept on narrow wooden boards up against the wall with just a wooden block for a pillow. Why all of this wakefulness and preparation? Beissel believed that Christ’s second coming would occur at any minute, and he wanted everyone to be ready. There was no need to propagate and grow the community, because when Christ came, they were all going to heaven right then and there.
After Beissel died in 1768, without having fulfilled his dream of witnessing the second coming of Christ, Peter Miller took over the group, and things began to change. There was some relaxation of their way of life, beginning with those punishing “beds.” The last of the celibate members died in 1813, and the Homesteaders took over, using the dormitories to house the poor. The charter for the cloister was revoked in 1934, and the property was purchased by the state of Pennsylvania and nine of the original buildings were restored. It is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
I had a fascinating day, and I learned a lot. If you are ever near Lancaster, PA, take some time to visit the Ephrata Cloister. You’ll feel like you stepped back into time.
See the rest of my photos here: http://camscamerashots.zenfolio.com/p31143429
“Life Through My Lens” is a travel/photography blog written by Cam Miller, copyright 2013
Email: cam.miller@comcast. net