Persecution Drives Brethren to a New Home

Refugees the world over have three challenges to face: persecution that drives them from their homes; a difficult journey into the unknown and finally settling in a new place to live. It is on the foundations of refugees leaving Moravia in 1722 that the Moravian Church as we know it today is built. During the late seventeenth century the Unitas Fratrum had been driven underground by the Roman Catholic Church. The first steps in creating Herrnhut, the birthplace of the renewed Moravian Church, were taken on 17 June 1722; hence this day is the Moravian Memorial Day to mark to renewal of the Brethren’s Church.

Despite many years of persecution the Brethren living in Moravia and beyond were holding
to their faith. Before his death in 1670 Jan Comenius had actively encouraged them and had raised money from England to buy bibles in their own languages. Living in countries where the Roman Catholic faith was dominant, reading a bible was one of the many dangerous acts that helped them to uphold their faith. They were banned from holding services and if they could not produce a certificate showing they had been to confession they could be imprisoned. The brethren were not to be defeated and in face of the many dangers, they met in secret. On cold winter nights they dared to walk in single file through the snow into the woods to worship together. The person at the back had to use a branch to cover their footsteps.

People realised that they needed to move, to find a place where they could worship together peacefully upholding their beliefs. Although some were losing hope there were
others who believed that a new home could be found. One such person was George Jaeschke who, on his death bed, told his family that he felt a long journey was ahead and
that this would lead to being offered a home in a new land. In fact, it was from the village
where he lived, Sehlen in Moravia, that the journey was to start.

Christian David was to lead a small group from Sehlen to Saxony, where they had been
offered land by Count Zinzendorf. After saying fond farewells to family, they each slipped
out quietly into the night. Among the group was Michael, the son of George Jaeschke. From
Sehlen they travelled on side roads and crossed the Silesian border, arriving in Saxony over a month after leaving their home village.

When they arrived Count Zinzendorf was away in Dresden. Consequently, initially they
received a cold welcome and were nearly sent away. The possibility of them settling in the
village of Berthelsdorf was considered, however Zinzendorf’s steward realised that new
settlers may not be welcome, their trade as cutlers was not needed and he was concerned
they may introduce infection.

For these reasons he led the refugees to a dismal, swampy stretch of ground about a mile
from the village so they could rest in an old unfinished farmhouse. It was truly dreary and
bleak, but the neighbouring woods of pines and beeches relieved the bareness of the scene.

The steward wished to find a place that would enable them to build a new home where the community could become established and grow. He spotted a place with a thick mist that suggested to him a spring. He offered a prayer on their behalf, and registered the solemn vow, “Upon this spot, in Thy name, I will build for them the first house.” In addition to land he ensured they had a cow to help them meet their basic needs. He inspected the site with Christian David, and marked the trees he might fell; and thus encouraged, Christian David seized his axe, struck it into a tree, and, as he did so, exclaimed, “Yea, the sparrow hath found a house, and the swallow a nest for herself.” The date was 17 June, 1722 and the first step in building Herrnhut had been taken. From Herrnhut, the Moravian Church was to grow and become the worldwide Church of todays.