Ephrata Cloister

The Saal, the Meetinghouse, at Ephrata Cloister is celebrating its 275th birthday this year!

There’s a long story to tell if the walls could talk! The incredibly well preserved walls at The Saal building at Ephrata Cloister, built in 1741, would have very interesting things to say about life here. If you’re familiar with Germany, you’ll recognize the craftsmanship in the Sisters’ house looks like it might have just dropped straight out of a little German village. Thick walls, low ceilings and massive beams blend together into rooms that resemble the original architectural forms that these Germans imported to Pennsylvania’s frontier.

Life within these rooms was even more intriguing. Leader Conrad Beissel’s teachings grew out of the Church of the Brethren, yet he made a number of changes that pledged his followers to a monastic life. Celibate Brothers and Sisters were thought to marry either Christ or Sophia, a nurturing female named after a Greek goddess. Everyone awoke at 5AM, to begin morning chores and went to bed at 9PM. Yet, none got a full night’s sleep, because everyone was awakened at midnight for a two hour church service, and then slept another three hours before arising for the day. At one time the nearly 80 Brothers and Sisters were supported by a group of nearly 200 “householders,” married couples who followed the faith of Beissel’s group, but lived on their own farms surrounding Ephrata.

TBlhe community, which formed the original center of the town of Ephrata, became known for self-composed a cappella music, the German calligraphy known as “Frakturschriften,” and the complete publishing service they provided to local Mennonites and other groups, including paper, printing and book binding.

When you visit, be sure to allow enough time to take a tour with the very informative guide and then look into all of the other buildings. Ring up the Dial and Discover Tour as you move from building to building, press in the number of the structure, and listen to a bit of history about the building right on your phone. It’s a wonderful blending of the really old in Pennsylvania, with the really new, making the story of these very unusual buildings available at the touch of a button.