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The Ephrata Cloister’s unique story

My dad, a history buff, and I decided to spend the morning together. Because of the busyness of life and work, we have to be intentional about getting together when we have free time. Since we both love history, we regularly pick interesting historic locations to explore and experience together. Not entirely sure what to expect, we signed up for the walking tour of the Ephrata Cloister, a National Historic Landmark founded in 1732. I always admired the beauty of the buildings and the lush grounds on which they set, but I didn’t know the story behind it all. Today’s visit was going to change that.

We gathered in a room with the rest of our tour group to watch a brief movie about the Cloister’s origin and history. We learned that the Cloister was one of America’s earliest religious communities and was founded by German settlers seeking spiritual goals rather than earthly rewards. Conrad Beissel, founder of Ephrata, was the key player in the development of this unique and strict religious community. The community consisted of celibate Brothers and Sisters and a married congregation of families. This community was at its peak from 1740-1750 when about 300 members worked and worshiped together. Their daily schedule, sleeping and eating routines, and simple clothing were beautifully bizarre and wonderfully intriguing. If you love history, I suggest clicking here to reading more about the history of this interesting place.

After the movie we met our guide, Nick, and embarked on our walking tour. Nick was dressed as one of the Brothers. He was knowledgeable and witty. He took us through the restored buildings, provided insight into the culture of Cloister, and answered a plethora of questions. The Cloister not only has a rich and unique history, the architecture is amazing. The Brothers and Sisters who built and maintained these structures also created original music, printing presses, and fraktur (a style of lettering and a highly artistic and elaborate art form), all while living a strict religious life style that included sleeping on beds made of wood.

After our tour ended, Dad and I walked the grounds. We wondered through the cemetery and through several other buildings. It was a beautiful day! The sun highlighted the gorgeous and strong architecture of the Cloister (by the way-the beauty of the Cloister makes it an amazing wedding venue). Making our way indoors, we meandered through the free exhibit, then popped into the quaint souvenir store where we nosed around for a while – of course, buying a few items to remember our trip.

This landmark is currently administered by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and is open daily for reasonably priced tours and special events. On-going research continues so that visitors can learn more about Ephrata’s surviving legacy and the people who built it.

I would highly recommend taking time to visit the Ephrata Cloister next time you’re in Lancaster.

To learn more, go to www.ephratacloister.org.


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