Thursday, December 22, 2005

Fieldtrip: Moravian Christmas in Bethlehem

Last month, The New York Times ran an article, “Little Towns of Bethlehem,” about Bethlehems throughout the United States. Many Slavs of New York know that Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, is not far away, but how many know it was founded by Slavs?

The city was founded by a religious sect, the
Moravian Church (Unitas Fratrum), in 1742. The Church’s roots lie in Bohemia and Moravia, today’s Czech Republic, though after 1722 the group’s base widened to include others in Central Europe, including many Germans. Together with Germanized Bohemians and Moravians, they shifted the cultural orientation of the Church away from Slavic culture towards Germanic.

Nevertheless, the Church is a Slavic phenomenon and many of its members in the US and in Bethlehem trace their ancestry back to Bohemia and Moravia. Among the Slavic sites:

  • The Moravian Graveyard of Bethlehem (a.k.a. God’s Acre Moravian Cemetery) in downtown Bethlehem. Final resting place of Juliana Nitschmann (nee Haberland), wife of the founder of the town and a native of Senov, Moravia. Other headstones reveal Moravian, Bohemian and Silesian origins.
  • Moravian College, established in 1742 with the founding of the town, on Main Street and next door to the Moravian Theological Seminary.
  • Statue of John Amos Comenius (1592, Nivnice, Moravia), known as the Father of Modern Education and a famous leader of the Moravian Church. The statue sits in front of Moravian College.
  • Moravian Museum of Bethlehem (66 West Church Street), featuring the history of the Moravian Church and of Bethlehem itself.

Check out Czech-American Historic Places & Monuments by Miloslav Rechcigl, Jr. for more info on Bohemian and Moravian sites throughout the United States, and check out holiday events in Bethlehem, PA, and photos of Christmas in the town.

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