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One cannot but be impressed, on examining the marriage records of the Moravian Congregation of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, by the number of ceremonies In which the principals figured prominently in the development of the church, either as pastors, missionaries, educators, and heads of congregational subdivisions, or, in the performance of the temporal duties requisite to the work in America during the early period of Bethlehem's history.

In the furtherance of the evangelization plan to which virtually every one in these two classes was consecrated, marriage usually played an important part, and constituted a necessary step. This was particularly true in the case of missionaries who went forth to preach the Word in distant lands.

Recourse to the lot, which will be discussed in more detail, figured prominently for many years in determining the mode of procedure in the settlement of questions of moment. It was resorted to in the choice of persons for missionary service, as well as in the selection of life partners. Courtship and romance played little part in the everyday life of the early church settlements. On the other hand, the days that followed the marriage ceremony, which we are wont to speak of as the honeymoon period, were frequently occupied in hazardous journeys, by land and sea, to none too friendly peoples in the mission fields. The diaries of the church disclose many interesting accounts of individual ceremonies solemnized at various times. The procedure in the case of a Moravian marriage held on February 2, 1762 is described by the Rev. A. L. Oerter as follows:

      "To the marriage of members of the congregation in those days a very deep religious significance was attached, and religious ceremonies were in vogue which no doubt helped the members to realize that holy matrimony was not to be entered Into 'lightly or inadvisedly, but reverently, discreetly and in the fear of God'. In the first place, the bride- and groom-to-be were solemnly betrothed to each other in a meeting of the congregation some weeks before the day set for the wedding. Then, perhaps a week later, in a special meeting of the unmarried brethren and sisters, they both took leave of those divisions of the congregation, to which they had until then belonged, the good wishes of which were expressed by the singing of benedictory verses, or 'verses of blessing' (Segensverse) as they were termed. The marriage was performed a week later, in the meeting-hall, in the presence of the married members of the congregation, after an appropriate address by the pastor, and was followed by a love-feast, in which there were further discourses on married life. Then followed the social gathering and wedding-feast in the house of the parents of the bride or groom". (1)

John Hill Martin gives the following description, attributed to Sister Sally Horsfield, of a wedding in Bethlehem in 1780: (2)

      "The couple were married in the 'Old Chapel', which was open to the whole congregation. After the ceremony, the friends and the invited guests proceeded to the small chapel, (Kleine Saal), which was in the second-story of the 'Gemein Haus'. The Brothers and Sisters walked in and sat down on benches without leans to them, each sex separate. The bride and groom proceeded to the minister's room, which was In the same house; where the bride was divested of her rose-colored ribbon, and a blue one placed instead. The newly married couple then proceeded to the Chapel again, taking their seats in the face of the congregation, when wine, diluted with water, into which nutmeg was grated, was handed to them and the guests. When they entered, all eyes were fixed on the bride, in order to see whether she had lost her ribbon. The cake eaten with the wine was pretzel".

Mention should be made of a custom which prevailed in the matter of dress, alluded to in the foregoing account. In early times there were, of course, many limitations in this respect, and simplicity in colors, style, and quality of material, was the rule in all of the church settlements. The members of the congregation were divided into choirs, and to distinguish the women in their respective groups custom decreed that the ribbon, or bow, with which the cap (Schneppelhaube) was tied under the chin, be of a different color for each choir. Pink was the color worn by the single sisters, but, immediately after the marriage ceremony was concluded, this was changed to blue. In widowhood., the distinctive color was white.


1. "Historical Sketch of Graceham, Frederick County, Maryland". - Transactions of Moravian Historical Society, Vol. 9.
2. "Historical Sketch of Bethlehem in Pennsylvania". Philadelphia, 1872. Sarah Horsfield (1785-1867), a daughter of Joseph Horsfield and his wife Elizabeth, m.n. Benezet. She taught in the Seminary fifteen years. The last thirty-one years of her life were spent in the Sisters' House. An interesting chapter on the subject of marriage and courtship in the early times, is contained in James Henry's "Sketches of Moravian Life and Character". (Philadelphia, 1859)

[Text above is from pages vii-ix of original]

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