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Notable Marriage Ceremonies

An outstanding event in these records, from a human interest point of view, was what has come to be termed the "Great Wedding", solemnized in Bethlehem on July 15, 1749. On that day, fifty-six persons were united in the bonds of matrimony. All of them were members of the "Third Sea Congregation", which had arrived in York two months before. The male members of the group were skilled artisans and included in their number were represented trades as blacksmith, carpenter, cabinetmaker, nailsmith, currier, furrier, shoemaker, weaver, tailor, farmer, and so on. Women, for their part, possessed those qualifications which apply to the good housewife, which specially fitted them for the upbuilding of the home. All of them had submitted to Divine guidance through the lot, as was the custom, and when the day arrived for the consummation of the ceremony, the twenty-eight couples presented themselves before Bishop David Nitschmann, Nitschmann, Frederick Cammerhoff, Samuel Krause, Christian Rauch, Matthew Reuz, and John de Watteville, each of whom, in turn, pronounced the words of the ceremony for four couples.

It is interesting to note that of the fifty-six participants of the Great Wedding, seventeen are buried in Bethlehem, twenty in Nazareth, one in the West Indies, three were victims of the Gnaden Huetten massacre, and fifteen are buried in various other localities in the foreign and home mission fields.

The Great Wedding of 1749 probably established a record. The idea of such ceremonies was not a new one, however, as a similar rite had been solemnized at Herrnhag, in Germany, on May 27, 1743, when twenty-four couples were united, pre preparatory to sailing for America on the "Little Strength", as members of the "Second Sea Congregation", which landed in New York November 26, 1743. It would be a matter of some interest to know the reasons for the reversal of procedure in the case of the Herrnhag and Bethlehem ceremonies, an explanation of which could doubtless be found in the church diaries at home or abroad.

While no future ceremonies were conducted on a scale to equal those mentioned, the idea was not altogether abandoned. On April 20, 1757, fourteen couples were united in Bethlehem, in what might be termed the "Lesser Great Wedding". The officiating ministers on this occasion were the Brethren Andrew Anton Lawatsch, Franz Christian Lembke, John Michael Graff, Paul Daniel Bryzelius, Abraham Reinke, Augustus Gottlieb Spangenberg, Peter Boehler, John Christopher Francke, John Ettwein, Bernhard Adam Grubs, Philip Christian Bader, and John Martin Mack. None of these had participated in the ceremony held eight years before. This wedding is thus described by John Hill Martin (Note 2):

      "The 'Act' was preceded by the entrance of the fourteen couples, accompanied by the ministers, which the account says,, 'Was a very respectable prospect'; while the trumpets and trombones were played. The Liturgy No. 92, from the Moravian Liturgy book., was then sung:
'Wie bring Ich' s doch zu wege 1 , by the choir, till the second verse, when the whole congregation Joined in. Then followed an address by 'Brother Joseph', (Spangenberg), upon the text of the day: 'I am the Vine, you the branches', after which, the entire congregation arose, and sung the hymn:
'Ach Gott du Keusches Lammelein'. During the singing the fourteen couples were united in marriage, in the order given, and Bishop Spangenberg then imparted the blessing of the Church upon the newly married people, to which the congregation responded 'Amen'. Then followed congratulations, refreshments and an intermission; after which the newly married couples, and the married people of the congregation, assembled together, and were entertained by some musical performers. The Brother, Petrus Boehler, then sung an original ode, and Brothers Graff, Ettwein and Reineke, read original compositions; copies of all of which., are still carefully preserved by the Moravians of Bethlehem, as well as of the address delivered by Bishop Spangenberg".

On July 29, 1758, ten couples were united on the same day, with the Brethren Seidel, Mack, Graff, Peter, Spangenberg, Reinke, and Neisser, as the officiating ministers.

[Text above is from pages xv-xvii of original]

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