The Ephrata Cloisters will make you enjoy the countryside with apple trees and simple buildings
Rusko visited the Ephrata Cloisters in Ephrata, Pennsylvania. The Ephrata Cloisters were founded by Conrad Beissel of Eberbach, Germany. He arrived to Pennsylvania in search of religious freedom and in 1732 found an area of Pennsylvania to live in solitude. He was looking for a quiet home that was free from worldly distractions and allow him to practice his religion. Beissel believed in two main things: Saturday Sabbath and celibacy (members of his church would be married to God, so there was no need for Earthly marriage.) By 1750, about 80 celibate members had joined Beissel´s congregation and were known as the Solitary. There were also families who wanted to worship with Beissel´s community and these were known as “householders.” There were about 200 householders who lived on nearby farms.
The “Solitary” had a very disciplined life. On a typical day they would wake up at 5am and pray for one hour, then they would go out to the fields to work for 3 hours. After this they would pray again for another hour, skipping breakfast. The day continued like this until dinner time at 6pm. This was the only meal that they ate in the day and it was vegetarian. Beissel thought that eating meat would bring out animal desires and behavior in his followers. After eating the members of the community worked on a calligraphy called “frakturshriften”, which was considered a discipline for body and soul, or formed part of a choir that sang in complicated acapella harmonies. When they slept, the Solitary members of the congregation used a wooden board and a pine wood pillow. Also, at midnight they rose again to pray for two hours due to the scripture which said that Jesus would come again like a thief in the night.
The Brothers and Sisters of the congregation were well known for their printing presses. One of the most ambitious projects was the translation and publication of Martyrs´Mirror for the Mennonites, a book of 1500 pages! The community was also known for charity, as they helped new settlers, the poor and elderly. The Cloister actually became a Revolutionary War military hospital.
In 1768, Conrad Beissel died and thus the community began its decline. In 1813 the last celibate member of the congregation died and the Householders continued the faith in the German Seventh Day Baptist Church, which worshipped in Ephrata through 1934. The Cloisters were restored in 1941 and today you can visit them in their restored state.
In our visit we saw the simple old buildings, notable for their low ceilings and chalk white walls. Also memorable were the narrow hallways and the small cell-like rooms where the members slept. It would have been a very disciplined way of life, but as the tour guide explained, at the time, there weren´t many options for some people. For women there was no divorce, no separation, no possibilities outside of an arranged marriage. If there was an abusive husband, or if a woman did not want to be considered an old maid, this may have been a good option. Also, it was a place families might come after having spent all their savings on the trip from Europe. In any case, it is hard to judge these people with modern eyes. We know that they chose Pennsylvania to avoid religious persecution, widely prevalent in Europe at the time.
Rusko liked his visit to the Ephrata Cloisters. He enjoyed seeing the countryside with apple trees and simple buildings. We learned a lot from our guide about the culture and lifestyle of these followers of Conrad Beissel, which might be comparable only to monasteries or convents of today. We ruskomend the Ephrata Cloisters with 4 boquerones.