Ephrata Cloister

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by Rm220English
Last updated 7 years ago

Social Studies

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Ephrata Cloister

After the last celibate member died in 1813, the married community established the Seventh Day Baptist Church. The state of Pennsylvania bought the historic site in 1941. The Ephrata Cloister (1732-1814) is now a national historic landmark and a member of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

A national historical site

The Ephrata Cloister

Although pacifists, the members aided the troops throughout the Revolutionary War. In 1776, while George Washington rested his troops at Valley Forge, soldiers were sent to Ephrata to recover from illnesses away from healthy soldiers. The members of Ephrata provided care, and many soldiers returned to fight for the American cause. A mass grave of about 50 soldiers was created atop the Mt. Zion cemetery; a permanent memorial was erected at the site in 1912. Meanwhile, Patriot soldiers arrived in Ephrata to seize copies of the Martyrs Mirror, a book published at Ephrata that chronicles Christian martyrs, to make gun cartridges for their muskets. The people of Ephrata turned over their copies of the book in their continued effort to help their fellow man.

Members of Ephrata lived their earthly lives as preparation for the after life. Members believed that when they died, they would marry God; women married the male version, Jesus, while men married the femal version, Sophia, which means wisdom. Because they believed that God did not eat, the people of Ephrata ate one vegetarin meal per day. They also believed that God would return in the middle of the night, so they slept very little and woke up at midnight for a two hour worship service. They also believed that being too comfortable while they slept left them open to temptations from the devil; for that reason, they slept on a wooden plank and used a block of wood for a pillow. Members lived a simple and humble life and wore basic white robes to divert any attention brought to them.

The Ephrata Cloister was founded by Conrad Beissel, who was born in Eberbach, Germany, in 1691. Beissel fled Germany in the early 1700s to avoid religious persecution for his practice in mysticism. After a decade of living in a small religious sect on the banks of the Conestoga River, Beissel sought a more isolated lifestyle and moved to the banks of the Cocalico Creek in 1732. Some members of the sect followed him and created what is now known as the Ephrata Cloister. As the leader of this new community, Beissel adopted the name Father Friedsam, meaning peaceful. He led the Ephrata community until his death in 1768.

Conrad Beissel a.k.a. Father Friedsam(1691-1768)

Members of the Cloister created elaborate pieces of artwork and practiced a type of calligraphy known as frakturschriften (fractured writing). Other members used their talents for singing, farming, and printmaking.

Nine original buildings of the Ephrata Cloister still remain. One of them is the Saron, or Sisters' House. Each dormitory is attached to a meetinghouse where members would go for prayer, including their midnight worship service.


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