Brødremenigheden i Christiansfeld

The Moravian Church in Christiansfeld

The Moravian Church in Christiansfeld

Christiansfeld has existed since 1773 when the town was founded as a Moravian community. The origins of the Moravian Church can be traced back to 1415, when the evangelical people of Bohemia and Moravia (the present-day Czech Republic) united after Johan Hus died as a martyr, burned at the stake in Konstanz.

In 1457 these people assembled in the town of Kunwald in Bohemia for what is known as the Moravian Church’s ”Unitas Fratrum”, whose adult members called themselves ”brothers” and ”sisters”. This Moravian community totalled almost 200,000 people in the 16th century, but was almost totally destroyed when it became entangled in the religious wars that raged from 1618 until 1648.

The Moravian Church did however survive, as scattered remnants migrated to Saxony, among other places, where in 1722 the Moravian community of Herrnhut was established on the land of Count Nicolaus Ludwig Zinzendorf. Herrnhut means both ”under the protection of God” and ”keeping watch for the Lord”. This is where the name ”Herrnhutters” stems from.

Count Zinzendorf became the head of the re-established Moravian Church. He died on May 9th 1760. The Herrnhutters founded Moravian towns in many countries, and became an international missionary church.

In 1766 Christian VII ascended to the Danish throne. Struense was the king’s personal physician, intelligent and dynamic. In 1771 he became Cabinet Minister.

He was very interested in trade, crafts and industry. The Herrnhutters were skilled craftsmen and traders, and Struense needed them and awakened the king’s interest in them.

Johannes Prætorius who was later to become Christiansfeld’s first priest and Jonathan de Briant, the leader of the Danish diaspora work, chose the site where the town was to be founded. Prætorius viewed several estates before ending up at Tyrstrup Farm on September 22nd 1771 which was to be auctioned on the following day. He bought the farm for 1041 rix-dollars.

On the 10th August 1772 at Frederiksborg Castle King Christian VII signed the concession which gave the Moravian Church permission to establish a Moravian town on Tyrstrup Farm’s land.

A town plan was drawn up along the same lines as the Moravian towns in other countries. The town was established with two parallel streets united by a square, the church square, around which the most important buildings are sited.

It is understandable that the town was named after the king. The town was founded by order of the king, and the royal concession granted by him was truly regal. The concession included, among other things, free religious practice, tax concessions, freedom from customs’ duties, its own court, no military service, no compulsory membership of guilds, and not least a cash contribution from the royal treasury towards the cost of building projects.

During the first 10 years 100,000 rix-dollars were invested in building projects, an impressive sum by the standards of that time.

On April 1st 1773 the foundation stone for the first four houses was laid, namely the foundation stone for ”the first house”, which was to provide the community’s first room for worship, as well as the  private dwellings of the two founders, Lindegade nos.26 and 28. (the vicarage and the principal’s house), and finally the hotel which served as an inn for friends of the community. The two private dwellings and the hotel were already ready for occupation in August 1773. The first church room was able to be inaugurated at the Ældstefesten (Elder’s Celebration) on the 13th  November the same year. Work on ”God’s Acre”, the Moravian churchyard, was also commenced the same year.

However, the room used for worship in ”the first house” quickly became too small and already in 1777 the main wing of the present church building had been completed, while the two adjacent wings were not added until 1796-1797.

The church building is the central point for Christiansfeld’s old buildings. The church is both larger and taller than the other Moravian buildings. Moreover, the roof is covered with black glazed tiles, in contrast to the town’s other houses, which have red roofs.

The church room, the largest without supporting columns in Denmark, is characterised by a great simplicity. Almost everything is white, and there are sand-covered floors made from broad planks of Douglas pine, white painted benches, and hand forged chandeliers dating from 1777 in which candles are placed. The church room has space for approx. 1000 people. However, it is only on special occasions such as Christmas Eve that the church room is full. The church room contains no altar, but a liturgy table from which the priest conducts the service and administers the sacraments.

In 1774 the Brothers’ House was built, followed by the Sisters’ House in 1776 and the Widows’ House in 1779.

Choir: The Moravian church divided its members into ”choirs”. Single ”brothers”, single ”sisters”, and widows lived in the 3 ”choir houses” –  the Brothers’ House, the Sisters’ House, and the Widows’ House.

The Choir Houses were run by the ”brothers” and ”sisters” of the community, and they had a form of economic independence. The Choir Houses were fitted-out with a ”choir room’ (church room) which was used for the daily worship, a dormitory and a dining hall. The Choir Houses also had a small plot of agricultural land attached to them as well as large attractive gardens with arbours.

In the Sisters’ House young girls were educated in language and womanly pursuits such as  needlework and housekeeping. In the Sisters’ House they also ran a laundry, as well as weaving, spinning and knitting workshops.

Today the Sisters’ House is used chiefly by a selection of Foreign Missionary organisations, including BDM (The Moravian Danish Mission).

The Brothers’ House contained various workshops including a cabinetmaker, a cooper, and a bakery. It was here that the unmarried ”brothers” received their education. Today the house contains ordinary living apartments.

The Widows’ House was, as the name suggests, inhabited by widows and single women. Already at this time, the Moravian Church possessed a system of social support that is reminiscent of that provided by public services in our own times. Today the main -wing contains family apartments.  The side-wing houses a museum containing, amongst other things, the Moravian collection.

Boarding Schools: In 1784 a boarding school for girls was built, and 4 years later a similar school for boys. These schools soon built up a good reputation and were visited by pupils from many different countries.  The schools practised the pedagogic thinking of Amos Comenius.

Today the girls’ school contains the council’s library and music school. The boys’ school serves as a part of Christiansfeld School.

The ”brothers” were hard-working and skilled craftsmen, traders and industrial men. During the course of a few years a considerable crafts and manufacturing enterprise was created. Amongst the first businesses were the hotel, a chandler’s, a dye works, a cigar and tobacco factory, a piano 

The ”brothers” were hard-working and skilled craftsmen, traders and industrial men. During the course of a few years a considerable crafts and manufacturing enterprise was created. Amongst the first businesses were the hotel, a chandler’s, a dye works, a cigar and tobacco factory, a piano factory, a ropemaker, a milliner’s, a printer’s, a book-binder, and a honey-cake bakery. Of these many businesses the honey-cake bakery, the hotel and the stove makers are still owned by the Moravian church.

In the European Listed Buildings year, 1975, Christiansfeld received the designation ”particularly worthy of preservation”, as the town centre remains untouched by newer building, exactly as it stood around 1800 when the Choir houses were completed. 36 of the houses are listed.

The Moravians are a free congregation with a confession of faith which does not contradict that of the Church of Denmark. The community is an evangelical-lutheran free congregation whose origins lie in the Herrnhuttian pietism from where it draws its inspiration for its liturgy and preaching. The Moravian Church, through ”Unitas Fratrum”, ”The Brothers’ Society”, is connected with Moravian churches in Europe, the U.S.A., as well as in the former missionary areas in a community that spans the world.

Today the congregation consists of 345 members of which approx. 135 live in Christiansfeld. A large number of the congregation participate in and contribute to the life of the church all year round carrying out their different tasks.

One can serve as a verger, whose duties may include handing out hymn books or serving tea and rolls during the Kærlighedsmåltidet (the Celebration of Faith), a special choral service which today is held 2-3 times a year. The singing alternates between congregation and choir, and, during this, tea with sugar and milk is drunk and raisin rolls are eaten, these being ordered specially for the occasion from the baker’s.

One can also sing in the choir or play in the brass band. Both participate in all church festivals.

The priest conducts the church service from his place behind the liturgy table, from where the sacraments are also administered.

At services a litany taking the form of a prayer is used, with the priest and congregation alternating in reading the text.

All the services and gatherings of the Moravian church are open to all. The Moravian Church lives on today, carrying forth its original motto of ”Our Lamb has conquered; let us follow him.”

Written by Käte Thomsen  –  Translated by Nick Porter