One of the more interesting aspects of visiting Allentown and Bethlehem for me was to learn about Moravians. As nearby Lancaster is the traditional home of the Amish, Bethlehem is the American capital of this Protestant denomination that has more than 750,000 adherents around the world. Unlike Mormons, they do not proselytize and have, according to the book I read, “no strange or unusual beliefs”. Perhaps that’s why I had never heard of them. Many Moravian congregations set aside Friday evenings for a meditative hour knowns as Lovefeast.
I was interested enough to buy and read a small book about them called All About the Moravians, which was available at the Moravian Book Shop on Main Street in Bethlehem. This is said to be the oldest bookstore in America and the oldest continuously operating bookstore in the world. Since it has clearly been recently remodeled, ” at the same location” should probably be added to this statement.
Down the street from the Moravian Book Shop is Moravian College. This is the 6th oldest school of higher learning in the United States and the 1st to educate women. George Washington tried to enroll his female kin here. Moravian College began as Bethlehem Female Seminary in 1742. Moravians from Germany and Moravia, now part of the Czech Republic, settled here and started this seminary.
Today Moravian College educates about 2,000 undergraduates. It became a college in 1954. Other Moravians settled in North Carolina. However, the 1st Moravian settlement in the USA, according to the easy-and-fast-to-read book I bought, was in Savanah, GA. Today there are about 45,000 American Moravians with pockets of them in Alaska and Labrador. There are 18 Moravian churches in Wisconsin, but their main settlements are in Tanzania, South Africa, and the Caribbean.
Moravian roots are found in Bohemia and go back to 1419. The man most responsible for them emigrating to America was Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf. He was intrigued by the New World at a time when Moravians were under “a cloud of suspicion in the Old World” according to Edwin Sawyer’s book mentioned above. His daughter visited Moravian settlements for 18 months in the 18th century. Bethlehem was founded by Moravians on Christmas Eve in 1741 after the Savannah adherents moved north to establish it. Count Zinzendorf was there. I suppose that’s why the light above resembling a Christmas ornament is their main symbol.
If I sense an interest in knowing more about Moravians, I’ll continue this topic on another day. But a better way to learn about them is to travel to Bethlehem, not the one is Asia but the one in the American Northeast.