A Tale of the Kloster: A Romance of the German Mystics of the Cocalico

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holding court in thy temple of beauty?'”
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A Tale

A Romance of the German Mystics
of the Cocalico

Illustrations by Frank McKernan

Oh, blessed solitary life,
Where all creation silence keeps!
Who thus himself to God can yield
That he ne’er from him strays,
Hath to the highest goal attained,
And can without vexation live.
Faith, toleration, love, and hope,
These all have come to his support.

Johann Conrad Beissel. Translation
from the German by Julius Friedrich
Sachse, Litt. D.

Griffith & Rowland Press

Published December, 1904
From the Press of the
American Baptist Publication Society

My Mother


A great New England historian has said that “The colony of Pennsylvania was not only more heterogeneous in population than any of the others, but it actually was the principal center of distribution of the non-English population from the seaboard to the Allegheny Mountains. All of the population of the Carolinas, as well as in Virginia and Maryland, entered the country by way of Pennsylvania, and this migration was so great, both in its physical dimensions and in the political and social effects which it wrought, that Pennsylvania acquires a special interest as the temporary tarrying place and distributing center for so much that we now call characteristically American.”[1]

It is undoubtedly true that into none of the other colonies did there flow such a tide of German immigration, bringing with it many a hardy Swiss and French Huguenot refugee from the Palatinate, along the lower Rhine.

Up to the Revolution there were more Germans in Pennsylvania than in all the other colonies together. Benjamin Franklin, it is well known, feared that the State might become a German province. Among the causes of this resistless tide of immigration were: Religious zeal, fostered by the teachings of William Penn and George Fox and their followers, and Penn’s far-sighted pledge of tolerance as to liberty of worship, sectarian ambition, escape from religious persecution, and bad government.

Especially were the first-comers inspired by religious zeal, and it was to this that such old settlements as Bethlehem and Germantown and Ephrata owe their founding. Later, when the tide rose to a thousand German immigrants a month, a great majority came with the simple desire to earn a livelihood in peace and safety—a desire played upon by the glib-tongued, unscrupulous land agents of that day so successfully, that shipload after shipload of poverty-stricken German peasantry, enduring uncomplainingly the sufferings and hardships of hunger, thirst, and fœtid air of the crowded hold and consequent ship-fever, poured into the port of Philadelphia and immediately took the oath of allegiance.

Quaint and curious names they had, as is evidenced by many an ancient shipmaster’s list—patronymics indicative of trade, occupation, profession, personal characteristics, nicknames, names that by a slow but sure process of anglization have lost much of their humor and flavor, and are now so changed in spelling and sound as hardly to be recognized in their original form.

But with all the fears of pauperism and disease and racial deterioration and establishment of inimical foreign institutions, this mass of crude, uncouth peasantry, with their unpronounceable names, besides bearing the brunt of Indian depredation and massacre during the French and Indian wars, became the ancestry of perhaps not less than one-third of the population of Pennsylvania to-day.

Beneath the unpromising exterior of these peasants were firmly fixed the virtues that give strength and stability, if not mercurial brilliancy—piety, industry, patience, thrift, peaceful dispositions, and intense love of home. The men were homemakers; the women were homekeepers. Devoted tillers of the soil, politics and business had few charms for them.

Although in such counties as Bucks, Lehigh, Lancaster, Dauphin, Northampton, York, Carbon, and Monroe, there are many communities inhabited almost entirely by Pennsylvania-Germans, still retaining their peculiar dialect, nevertheless their German church service and German newspapers are rapidly becoming things of the past.

The present generation of Pennsylvania-Germans is going to the public schools, normal schools, and colleges, and in other respects is becoming thoroughly English; for however strongly the more conservative ones may cling to the old habits and traditions, it is true that ere long Pennsylvania-German and such things as Pennsylvania-German singing schools, “Fóstnacht” festivities, “frolics,” and “vendues,” will be matters of tradition.

Perhaps no phase of their history is more interesting than that of their early religious experiences. In no other of the American colonies were there at such an early date so many altars raised to the various faiths—orthodox, sectarian, mystic, and separatist, Lutheran, Moravian, Quaker, Mennonite, Dunker, Seventh Dayer, and New Mooner. But though differing in creed and tenet, and frequently hurling at each other their broadsides, as their controversial pamphlets were called, all these sects were conspicuous for their thrift, industry, and religious devotion; for though many of their beliefs were extremely mystical and, showed every vagary of pietism, one great fundamental idea inspired and possessed these people, namely, to live in the utmost simplicity of habit, manner and speech, garb and diet, in strict conformity with the practices of the early church, and as close as possible to their Lord and Master, to whose service their lives were consecrated. It is because of this idea conscientiously lived out that this Commonwealth is so greatly indebted to them.

The author has selected as a type the Kloster at Ephrata (a name fragrant with biblical suggestiveness), the founder of which, Conrad Beissel, was a strong, intensely earnest, impetuous religious leader, who in a few years gathered about him a number of zealous men and women, some of them of considerable learning. In less than a decade there arose a semi-monastic community which developed into a religious, educational, commercial, and industrial settlement that at an early date set up in that far-away wilderness, many miles distant from the chief city of the province, the third printing press in the colony, and the first to print with both German and English type.

The little town, or “mountain borough,” of Ephrata lies about eighteen miles southwest from the flourishing city of Reading and not more than thirteen miles northeast of Lancaster, with its memory of the Continental Congress, in the rich, fertile valley of the Cocalico in the northern part of Lancaster County.

The Ephrata of the present day, numbering possibly three thousand inhabitants, is situated at the foot of the gentle northwestern slope of the Ephrata Mountains. A broad main street that easily ascends toward the southeast leads up close to the “Ephrata Mountain Springs,” a famous resort in the days before the war of the Rebellion. But directing one’s way in the opposite direction, leaving the little town with its banks and hotels and industrial establishments, the unfailing accompaniments of these prosaic, unsentimental days, the wide, ancient thoroughfare leads northwestward, the business features giving way to the neat, pleasant, comfortable homes so characteristic of the Pennsylvania-Germans. The houses, with the peculiar feature of their gable ends toward the side instead of facing the street, are well set back in the grassy yards enriched with glorious dahlias in crimson and gold and ivory white, purple asters, bright geraniums, flaunting hollyhocks, and all the other well-beloved, old-fashioned favorites, while from the opulent garden in the rear, most likely a magnificent sunflower in solitary gorgeousness turns his dark, golden-fringed eye to his god of fire and light, now and then the whisper of some truant breeze swaying the stately head of the ardent devotee into a half-wistful glance out over the dusty road.

But neither these nor the spacious front porch, with its luxurious trellised vines and the inviting benches before the front door, receive more than an admiring and half-envious glance, and are left behind as the road passes over the arches of the old stone bridge that spans the Cocalico, flowing along the northwestern edge of the town. In the angle formed by the northern bank of the stream and the southern side of the turnpike road, but a short distance beyond the point of the angle where the road leaves the bridge, lie the Kloster grounds, formerly known as “The Settlement of the Solitary” (Lager der Einsamen), but now locally referred to as “The Kloster,” a full and excellent description of which is contained in “The German Sectarians of Pennsylvania,” by Julius Friedrich Sachse, LITT. D., in which he has, after years of patient labor given us a most admirable, critical, and legendary history of the Ephrata Kloster.

Within the confines of this out of the way nook the author has placed the personages of this romance, which he fondly hopes may be of interest not only to Pennsylvania-Germans, but to all who delight in a story which is only a story. Over a century and a half has elapsed since the Sisterhood and Brotherhood were in the zenith of their little world, and it were well-nigh impossible to reproduce at this late day with absolute fidelity such matters as dress, customs, manners and habits, religious rites and ceremonies; and yet, thanks to the exhaustive investigations of Mr. Sachse and others, the author has been able to pattern forth in the warp and woof of this tale more or less distinctly, considerable that relates to the homely architecture, the cloistral life, worship, rites, ceremonies, and beliefs of these peculiar but devoted, plain-living, high-thinking Sisters and Brothers.

To reproduce their speech, even if possible, were of course sadly out of place at this day; for the German, even of the early settlers, was represented by such various dialects as Swabian, Würtemberger, Bavarian, Swiss, Hessian, Palatinate, and others; and though these were all German dialects, yet since those days there has been such a copious infusion of English words, that to-day Pennsylvania-German, though “it is still, in the articulation of its bones and its general form and spirit, the tongue of the Rhine country,”[2] is none the less neither German nor English, but “a hybrid, non-descript jargon,”[3] at best an Americanized dialect of the German, but a dialect able to produce beautiful flowers in the fields of lyric poetry under the cultivation of such as Harbaugh, Hark, Zimmerman, Zeigler, Fisher, Grumbine, and others.

Pennsylvania-German being a dialect not of the almost universal English tongue but of the German, and what is especially to the point, a fast declining dialect with but a small remnant who can speak and understand it in the vernacular, the author feels not only that he should by employing this dialect address himself to an exceedingly small audience, but might, moreover, justly incur the charge of pedantry and affectation.

Thus while it is true that the greater number of the Sisters and Brothers of the Kloster were Germans and spoke the mother tongue in their daily intercourse, yet after all language is only the means of conveying ideas, thoughts, and these we know have a language understood by all.

Moreover, this volume is not presented from the standpoint of the antiquarian or philologist. The Brothers and Sisters of Ephrata, though celibates, sworn to the love of the celestial Eve and the heavenly Bridegroom, were none the less flesh and flood, subject to the same passions and temptations as the men and women of the present day. They too had “eyes, hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions,” and were “fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer.” In a word, they were men and women of like passions with ourselves.

It is of such men and women the author writes; men and women unused “to the courtliness of state, unskilled in the hollowness of vain compliment, untutored in the frippery and polish of artificial society, unacquainted with the insincerity and diplomacy of the wider world, removed from kith and kin and thrown upon their own resources among strangers and amid new surroundings.”[4]

The author, that he may not be held to have drawn too deeply from his neighbor’s well, fully acknowledges his great indebtedness to his friend, Mr. Sachse. Indeed, to do exact justice, it must be said that this volume contains nothing more than a romance wound about the facts, incidents, traditions, and descriptions, taken by the author from the “German Sectarians,” with the kind permission of Mr. Sachse.

Acknowledgment of indebtedness should also be made to Rev. J. Max Hark and Hon. Samuel W. Pennypacker, Governor of Pennsylvania, for the use of translations, portions of which are prefixed to Chapters XV. and XIX. It should also be added that the initial letters used through the book, as well as the design on the cover, are made from reproductions of pen-work drawings executed by the Ephrata Sisterhood.

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