hidden europe 22

Piety and community: the Moravian Brethren

by Nicky Gardner


Cast your eye over the cemetery at Herrnhut to find out why this small community in eastern Saxony exerts so powerful a pull on members of the Moravian Church around the world. hidden europe explores the origins and influence of the Moravian Brethren.

The watchtower is a simple structure. Round, white, pristine, and an appeal to symmetry that is mirrored everywhere in the nearby village. In the pre-dawn dim, the avenue of pollarded trees leading down to the village look like knights standing sentinel. As the sun comes up over the Polish hills away to the east, the precision that defines Herrnhut becomes ever more evident. Beneath the watchtower lies the cemetery, where serried ranks of the Brethren lie as ordered in death as they were in life. Here a choir of infants, there the single women, in another part of the cemetery those who died as widowers. Family ties count for nothing on God's Acre, and instead the graves are arranged according to the gender and marital status of the deceased. To each, their own choir. So has it always been with the Brethren of the Moravian Church, and so it is today. God's Acre is Herrnhut's cemetery, the most precisely ordered graveyard in Saxony. Each gravestone is identical, always set flush with the ground, and not perpendicular as is the norm in so many other cemeteries. The manner and style of inscription on every stone is identical. Name, date and place of birth, date of ‘home-going'.

Herrnhut is no ordinary community. Buried away in the hills of Saxony in eastern Germany, Herrnhut is a pre-eminent example of a community of the Moravian Church. Its cemetery, God's Acre, is the prototype for Moravian graveyards throughout the world. And in the layout of the village, with the Moravian church as its focus, Herrnhut is a superb study of an eighteenth-century community of grace: a planned urban settlement that reflected in every detail the values and spirituality of its inhabitants.

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