Tells of the founding and subsequent history of Ephrata, a mystical religious community that flourished in eastern Pennsylvania in the mid-eighteenth century. Its leader, Conrad Beissel, a German Pietist who came to America in 1720 seeking spiritual peace and solitude. Settled in Lancaster County, his talents and charisma attracted other German settlers who shared his vision of a community built in the image of apostolic Christianity.
“Alderfer's story of Ephrata is essentially the biography of Conrad Beissel. . . . This small volume gives a vivid picture of the founding, development, economy, calligraphy, printing, music, theology, inner tensions, and self destruction of this holy experiment.”—Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography
"A window on another world, a world as alien to us today as Conrad Beissel's was to fellow Pennsylvanians in the eighteenth century." —Pennsylvania History
E. G. Alderfer has chosen a dramatic story to tell--the founding and subsequent history of Ephrata, a mystical religious community that flourished in eastern Pennsylvania in the mid-eighteenth century. The history of the commune is inseparable from that of its leader, Conrad Beissel, a German Pietist who came to America in 1720 seeking spiritual peace and solitude. When he settled in the virgin forest of Lancaster County, his talents and charisma attraced other German settlers who shared his vision of a community built in the image of apostolic Christianity.
In its heyday, from about 1735 to 1765, the community at Ephrata numbered some two hundred people, the celibate members living in simple wooden buildings noted for the harmony and serenity of their architecture.
The cultural achievements of the group were exceptional. They produced an extensive body of mystical literature and constructed the most complete printing establishment in the colonies at that time. They were also adept at the art of Fraktur, and many exquisitely decorated manuscripts survive. Music was a particular interest of Beissel's, and the choral music performed at Ephrata was well known and much admired.
Mr. Alderfer, who has written widely on colonial Pennsylvania, shows the relationship of the Ephrata commune to other experiments at withdrawal from the world and in particular to the many strands of Old World mysticism and the German Pietist movement. He also discusses American religious and communal movements of later times in the light of the Ephrata experience. His is the first history of the community to provide extensive documentation, including analysis of many surviving manuscripts and books written at Ephrata.
Although the commune died out in the nineteenth century, the site and many of the buildingts survived. Today the Ephrata Cloisters Park is operated by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.