I visited Büdingen on my way to Frankfurt a few months ago. From the early stages of my project, I had had plans to explore the Wetterau, a very beautiful region apparently unbeknownst to many Germans today. Büdingen and its surroundings became an important refuge for religious minorities in the eighteenth century, after Count Ernst Casimir of Ysenburg-Büdingen (1687-1749) proclaimed religious tolerance for all in his county in 1712. Many separatists flocked to the fertile Wetterau valley from the Palatine and Württemberg, including radical Pietists, Anabaptists, Hutterites, as well as Jews. Although it enjoyed one of the most tolerant policies in the Holy Roman Empire and even in Europe, the Wetterau remains virtually unknown to scholars outside Pietist studies.
The earliest and most significant group to settle in the Wetterau was the Communities of True Inspiration (Inspirationsgemeinden), a German offshoot of the Camisard Prophets’ satellite in Halle founded by the Pietist minister Eberhard Ludwig Gruber (1665-1728) and the saddler Johann Friedrich Rock (1678-1749). This is where ends one of the ‘French connections’ of the millenarian network I am reconstructing. But this also marked a new beginning in the history of German radical Pietism. For these Inspirationists remained active until the mid eighteenth century, leading dozens of missions across Germany, Switzerland and Alsace. They lost many followers to the growing Moravian Church that established communities in the Wetterau. After a period of silence, the Inspirationist saw a revival at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The group eventually emigrated to America in the 1840s, where there they founded the Amana colonies in Ohio.
The archives of the princely family of Ysenburg-Büdingen are located inside the castle in Büdingen. They contain printed and manuscript collections on the history of the Wetterau, local court culture, immigration to the region and of course Pietism. Unfortunately, accessing these archives is a research project of its own. No website, no email, no phone number, no catalogue. The archivist, now retired, comes by appointment only, so if you ever need to access these archives, please contact me and I’ll be happy to help. The small reading room is packed with boxes and piles of dusty manuscripts, and can only accommodate one scholar at a time. Still is proved a worthwhile experience overall if you are feeling adventurous.
After a day of work in the princely archives, I decided to complete my research pilgrimage and walked four kilometers across the countryside to Herrnhaag, home to a former and notorious Moravian settlement. This is where Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf (1700-1760) established the second Moravian community in 1738 during his exile from Herrnhut, Saxony. Herrnhaag was presented as the New Jerusalem and would serve as a model for later utopian settlements like Bethlehem in Pennsylvania. The community rapidly grew to some 1,000 residents; it gained an international reputation and attracted foreign visitors like the Methodist preacher John Wesley (1703-1791).
The Herrnhaag experiment did not survive long enough to witness the Second Coming of Christ. In the late 1740s, a scandal broke out that would prove fatal to the community. Zinzendorf’s son, Christian Renatus (1727-1752) aka ‘Christel’, began preaching to his fellow male brethren in December 1748 that all souls were female. Men were therefore female inside and could experience union with Christ through sexual intercourse. The young generation’s take on the Moravians’ belief in bridal mysticism plunged the community into a deep crisis known as the Sifting Time. Zinzerdorf was forced to crack down on this new heresy, but scandals, financial strains and the authoritarian rule of the new Count, Gustav Friedrich (r. 1749-1768), forced the Moravians to migrate to London and Bethlehem. Herrnhaag was completely abandonned by 1753 and slowly fell into ruin. Today, only two original buildings and the nearby cemetery are still standing.
The journey continues…