Posted by: marymarthatours | March 11, 2011

Travels into Pennsylvania and Back in Time – The Ephrata Cloister

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Ephrata Cloister, Ephrata, Pennsylvania

My husband, Collie, and I traveled to Pennsylvania in December to spend the holidays with our son and his family. They live in a community on the northwestern edge of Philadelphia. Having previously lived in PA, we very much enjoy any time spent there. There are many sites to explore in the Southeastern corner of PA. On this trip we visited several places for the first time and returned to some favorites.

For three days during the week before Christmas, Collie and I went off for a trip-within-a-trip to Lancaster County. We stayed in the town of Lititz at The Alden House B&B. I highly recommend both. Lititz is one of those “most charming” historic towns. I had visited the Wilbur Chocolates Museum and Shop there on a prior trip. Our only time to explore Lititz this time was on a couple of evening walks. Maybe on another trip, we will see more of the attractions in the town.

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The Ephrata Cloister, located nearby in the town of Ephrata, was one of our preplanned destinations. Their website, www.ephratacloister.org will give you more details and photos. The colony was founded in 1732 as a German Protestant, uniquely austere, faith community of celibate Brothers and Sisters and a married congregation of families. The buildings have been restored to the cloister’s active period in the 1740’s and 1750’s.

clip_image006As we toured the grounds and the buildings on the chilly, clear, blue skied day, both Collie and I were awed by the beauty of the buildings and huge hard wood trees silhouetted against the bright blue sky. These trees were so different from the huge evergreen fir trees that we are used to in western Washington that fill up spaces and hide their branching structure.

There were no other visitors on our guided tour so the guide made our visit very personal and engaged me in a theological discussion about the religious beliefs and practices of this unique community that once numbered about 300. They ate one meal a day, had a very regimented schedule which included a two-hour worship service from 12 midnight to 2AM every day. They believed that Christ would come again “as a thief in the night” and perhaps tonight, so they were ready every day to greet his return. Their meditation, singing and fraktur illustrations and printing Pennsylvania German Folk Art kept them occupied for hours each day. The community and the religious denomination did not survive long, but their buildings, and legacy of music, art and printing and their place in early colonial American history have survived to amaze and inspire any visitor.

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I have visited other German communal society sites in the US, and it was particularly interesting to explore Ephrata Cloister because it is historically very early. These faith communities in the US were places where people wishing to live in a different way could practice their beliefs in freedom. Check out the websites of two other communal societies: www.amanacolonies.com (Amana, Iowa), and www.auroracolony.org (Aurora, Oregon). I recommend all three for a visit if you are traveling in the area.

(By Martha)

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