Christiansbrunn: A Neo-Moravian Hermitage in Pennsylvania

The Moravian Church (Latin: Unitas Fratrum, meaning “Unity of the Brethren”) is a Protestant denomination. This church’s nickname comes from the original exiles who came to Saxony in 1722 from Moravia to escape persecution, but its religious heritage began in 1457 in Kunvald, Bohemia, today Czech Republic, an autonomous kingdom within the Holy Roman Empire. The Moravian Church places a high premium on Christian unity, personal piety, missions, and music.

Christian Renatus, Imperial Count von Zinzendorf und Pottendorf (1727-1752) was the charismatic leader of the Single Brethren’s Choir of the Moravian Church and of Herrnhaag (God’s Grove), a Christian religious community built near Büdingen by his father, Nicholas Ludwig, head of the Brüdergemeine or Moravian Unity. Christian Renatus, affectionately known as Christel, took his father’s marriage religion (Ehereligion) literally, proclaiming himself to be the living Sidewound of Christ in 1748, which meant he was the embodiment of Christ’s sacrificial and compassionate love.
zinzen 2
The younger Zinzendorf and his co-elder of the Single Brethren, Joachim Rubusch, also proclaimed themselves to be married to the Sidewound. This derived in part from the teaching of Zinzendorf’s father that all souls are female, regardless of gender, so that they may be married to Christ. (This image is derived from the fact that “soul” in German, die Seele, is always a feminine noun.) It was also in 1748 that Christian Renatus von Zinzendorf declared all Single Brethren to be Sisters and therefore rides of Christ.
The compounding of sexuality and spirituality at Herrnhaag led to virulent attacks from outside and within the church, threatening to undo the goodwill with other denominations that Nicholas had sought for decades. He dismissed his son from his positions and brought him to England for the remaining three years of Christian’s life.
After his death, Christian’s followers in Pennsylvania named a settlement farm after him. Since there was a flowing spring there it was called “Christiansbrunn”, Christian’s Spring. while church leaders systematically destroyed most of the documents referring to the events at Herrnhaag. Only within the past two decades has a new generation of scholars and historians begun to reexamine that period to determine what happened.”

For the original Christiansbrunn in Pennsylvania, see
sacred spring
The Sacred Spring was accessed through the cellar door in the Brethren’s house.

“When we bought the land in 1988, only the barn was here. We lived in it for nearly two years while we moved an early pioneer settler’s cabin to the property and rebuilt it as the First House.

That first winter was miserably cold and we only had a kerosene heater which absolutely failed to keep us warm. We ended up moving our 11-foot camper trailer into the barn and living in it during the coldest months. Needless to say there was no electricity, no running water, no plumbing and little of anything else. That was by necessity. But we kept it that way for years as we built the community by moving other buildings onto the property, either in pieces or intact, and redesigning them.

Our goal was to recreate an eighteenth-century community of single brothers that was located north of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. We had moved to Bethlehem from Salt Lake City where we met in college. We came to Pennsylvania to buy a farm. But Bethlehem had originally been a religious community and we wanted to have our own spiritual family of brothers.

Our model was a community called Christiansbrunn, the Spring of Christian, named for the leader of the brotherhood. Ironically he never came to Pennsylvania, being born in Germany and dying in London at the age of 24.
zinzen 1
Our founder, Christian Renatus von Zinzendorf. His spirit, living in a spring, is our role model for uniting the spiritual and the physical.

However his brothers believe Christian’s spirit lived again in the waters of what became a sacred spring. By drinking the water, they believed, one was entered by the spirit of Christian. That spring still exists.

This set us on fire. It was the union of the physical and the spiritual which we had been seeking for years. The idea was by living the life of those early brothers, that the brotherhood would live again. Yet we found that we were not suited to communal life but to the isolated life of hermits, which each brother living in his own house.
Herm 1990
Hermitage 1990

Now our master plan in completed with more than two dozen structures on the property, including craft houses, a community house and the Mahantongo Heritage Center.

Our own lives have changed as we have created a family not solely of humans but a broader ideal of living with the birds and animals that inhabit the Hermitage. William Penn’s vision of an earthly paradise garden where humans and animals live in peace continues to guide us.
We have come to realize that all are one and one is all. However it is easier to say than to live.
Herm 2011
Hermitage 2011

As Harmonists, our goal is to live in harmony with the spirit and the earth at every moment. Such an elusive goal! And, like all powerful ideals, one that is difficult to attain. The times when we are most successful is when we don’t even try.

Where beauty and harmony dwell
The earth joins with the spirit
And humanity unites with all living things.”
Christian’s Gemeinehaus painting showing our founder protecting the Hermitage with his blood which turns into a stream and then into a furrow.
The Mahantongo Heritage Center is the only museum specifically dedicated to preserving and displaying the Pennsylvania German folk traditions of the Mahantongo Valley:

See also The Hermitage blog:

A series of videos about The Hermitage is available on You Tube:


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