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Ephrata Cloister
U.S. National Register of Historic Places
U.S. National Historic Landmark
Photograph of Ephrata Cloister buildings in December 2006
Location: Ephrata, Pennsylvania
Area: 28 acres
Built/Founded: 1732
Architect: Unknown
Architectural style(s): No Style Listed
Governing body: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission
Added to NRHP: December 24, 1967
Designated NHL: December 24, 1967[2]
NRHP Reference#: 67000026[1]
Part of a series of articles on
Schwarzenau Brethren
(the German Baptists or Dunkers)
200 AlexanderMackSeal.jpg

Christianity · Protestantism · Anabaptism · Pietism · Radical Reformation

Doctrinal Tenets

Non-Creedalism · Triune Baptism · love feast · feet washing · Holy kiss · Anointing for healing · Non-Resistance and pacifism · The Brethren Card


Alexander Mack · Louis Bauman · Conrad Beissel · Donald F. Durnbaugh · Christoph Sauer · John C. Whitcomb


Brethren (Ashland) Church · Brethren Reformed Church · Church of the Brethren · Conservative Grace Brethren · Dunkard Brethren · Grace Brethren · Old German Baptist Brethren · Old Order German Baptist Brethren
Extinct groups: Ephrata Cloister · Church of God (New Dunkers)

Related Movements

Mennonites · Amish · Community of True Inspiration · River Brethren · Religious Society of Friends · Christian Peacemaker Teams

The Ephrata Cloister or Ephrata Community was a religious community, established in 1732 by Johann Conrad Beissel at Ephrata, in what is now Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The grounds of the community are now owned by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and are administered by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

Marie Kachel Bucher, the last surviving resident of the Ephrata Cloister, died on July 27, 2008, at the age of 98.[3]



The community was descended from the pietistic Schwarzenau Brethren movement of Alexander Mack of Schwarzenau in Germany. The first schism from the general body occurred in 1728—the Seventh Day Dunkers, whose distinctive principle was that the seventh day was true Sabbath.

In 1732, Beissel arrived at the banks of the Cocalico creek, in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Around this charismatic leader a semi-monastic community (the Camp of the Solitary) with a convent (the Sister House) and a monastery (the Brother House) was established called Ephrata. The members of the order were celibate. In addition to celibacy, the members believed in strict interpretation of the Bible, and self-discipline. Members were required to sleep on wooden benches 15 inches wide, with wooden blocks for pillows. They slept six hours per night, from 9 P.M. to midnight, and from 2 A.M. until 5 A.M., with a two-hour break to "watch" for the coming of Christ. They ate one small vegetarian meal a day. The only time the followers of Beissel were permitted to eat meat was during the celebration of communion when lamb was served. The members of the cloister spent much time at work or praying privately. Services every Saturday were led by Beissel, often being several hours long.

During the time that this group formed, there was a hint of dissatisfied intellectualism of churches. Many wanted to be away from state established churches. Strict religious lives caused these brothers and sisters to come together to worship God in other ways. Instead of practicing their religion, they applied it by helping others to become more spiritual and celibate.

Among the sisterhood and brotherhood there included a married order of householders, which were families who supported and engaged in the everyday activities. Other than practicing quiet lives by praying and doing charity work [4], the Cloisters had a duty and that duty was to keep up with the tasks of living at Ephrata. Farming and industrial work were the typically workload on a daily basis. Although the Cloisters often practiced their religion by interpreting Biblical works, they also engaged in carpentry and papermaking. Other tasks included gardening, preparing meals, and mending. [5] Not only were the cloisters famous for their writings and hymns on the printing press but they became very busy people especially when it came to chores. They manufactured clothing on a mill and kept their lives busy by creating duties and obligations.

The Cloisters had a positive outlook in life; they respected their neighbors, land and environment. Education was also important in their society. It was important that every child maintain their education. Children that came from families were also encouraged to be educated in the German school. Educating the young was one of the charity works that the Cloisters accomplished. They also helped the poor by passing around bread to the poor families.

Other believing families settled near the community, accepted Beissel as their spiritual leader and worshipped with them on Sabbath. These families made an integral part to the cloister, which could not be self-sustaining without them. The brothers and sisters of Ephrata are famous for their writing and publishing of hymns, and the composition of tunes in four voices. Beissel served as the community's composer as well as spiritual leader, and devised his own system of composition. The Ephrata hymnal (words only) was printed in 1747.

The Ephrata Cloister had the second German printing press in the American colonies and also published the largest book in Colonial America. The book, Martyrs Mirror, is a history of the deaths of Christian martyrs from the time of Christ until 1660. Before the publication began at the request of a group of Mennonites from Montgomery County, it had to be translated from the original Holland Dutch into German, which was completed by Peter Miller of the Ephrata Community. Work began in 1748 and was finished about three years later. Many of the books were purchased by the Montgomery County Mennonites who had initiated the process.

The charismatic Beissel died in 1768, and this contributed to a declining membership. The monastic aspect was gradually abandoned, with the last celibate member dying in 1813. In 1814 the Society was incorporated as the German Seventh Day Baptist Church (or The German Religious Society of Seventh Day Baptists). Branches were established in other locations, some still surviving in 2009. In 1941, a 28-acre (100,000 m²) Ephrata tract of land with remaining buildings was conveyed to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for use as a state historical site.

At its height, the Ephrata community grew to 250 acres (1 km²) inhabited by about 80 celibate men and women. The married congregation numbered approximately 200.

It is most important to understand that this communal society was primarily famous for its goal on achieving a harmonious life without interference of bad influences of the outside world. The Ephrata cloister community did eventually come to a collapse due to weak commitment and involvement of its members after the death of Beissel. This historical site has now become a place where visitors can come and experience the past and get a glimpse of the works published, but it is important to understand that this community was once a place of singing, industry and communion. These people were filled with spiritual allegiance and trusted God to guide them and love them.



  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. Retrieved 2007-01-23.  
  2. ^ "Ephrata Cloister". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved 2008-07-02.  
  3. ^ "Obituary of Marie Elizabeth Kachel Bucher". Intelligencer Journal. 2008-07-29. Retrieved 2008-07-31.  
  4. ^ History, Ethnic - Ephrata Cloister
  5. ^ Ephrata Cloister

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