ephrata cloister

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The Ephrata Cloister, Ephrata, PA

“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 (380 mm) 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.“

Ephrata Cloister, Ephrata, Pennsylvania. 

Ephrata was a religious community established by Johann Conrad Beissel in 1732, in what was then the forested frontier west of Philadelphia. 

Beissel was from Eberbach, Germany, an independent religious thinker influenced by the pietistic Schwarzenau Brethern and Baptist movements. He had originally traveled to America in 1720 in hopes of becoming a hermit. Soon after he arrived, however, he met many other people who believed in his philosophy and wished to join him. 

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 (380 mm) wide, with wooden blocks for pillows. They wore gender-neutral white robes and 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. 

Among the sisterhood and brotherhood there included a married order of householders, which were families who supported and engaged in the everyday activities. 

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. 

(Photo taken by me, June 2008, I believe)