Selection of the Month
Book production as an act of individual piety is most closely associated with medieval Europe, where monks (and occasionally nuns) labored for weeks, months, and even years in the slow, meditative process of writing and illuminating books. Such expressions of religious devotion did not end with the Middle Ages. Special Collections recently acquired a rare book from colonial America that was produced under similar circumstances.
Written by the German theologian Valentin Wudrian and first published in 1627, the book is entitled Creutz-Schule ("School of the Cross"). WWU's copy of the text dates from 1762 and was printed at a small, semi-monastic community in rural Pennsylvania known as the Ephrata Cloister. Conrad Beissel, a religious philosopher influenced by Pietist thought, founded the community in 1732. He and other early members lived as hermits, dedicating their earthly life to preparing for the life to come. Each day revolved around private prayer and physical labor, including printing, papermaking, and bookbinding.
The cloister had its own printing press, brought from Germany with a set of type in the early 1740s. Between 1748 and 1751, the Brothers printed their most famous work, the Martyrer Spiegel ("Martyrs' Mirror"). Recounting the stories of early Christian martyrs, its text was translated at Ephrata from Dutch into German by Peter Miller (who, in 1776 at the request of the Continental Congress, translated the Declaration of Independence into seven European languages and had each version printed on the Ephrata press for foreign distribution). In Mennonite and Amish communities, the Martyrs' Mirror was (and remains) second in importance only to the Bible. The Ephrata edition, at more than 1,500 pages, was the largest book printed in colonial America. Nearly one million sheets of paper were needed for the ambitious print run of 1,300 copies, a quantity that would have challenged even the most well-established European printing houses of the time. Some, if not all, of this paper was made on site at the Ephrata Cloister, which operated one of the few paper mills in the Thirteen Colonies.
The School of the Cross, though less monumental than the Martyrs' Mirror, is a more typical example of Ephrata printing. Its typeface is almost entirely Fraktur, a German form of blackletter font that traces its origin to the Gothic scripts of the Middle Ages. However, the Ephrata printers were the first in America to use both Gothic and Roman typefaces, the latter being used for words in English, Latin, and other languages besides German. An example of this may be found in the colophon on the very last page of Wudrian's work, where information about the book's printing is given in Latin. Beneath this, returning to a Gothic font, the book concludes with two stanzas of rhyming poetry, which the Ephrata Brothers and Sisters, well-known for their acapella singing, may have set to music:
Wer alles hat, hat nichts gefunden
Wer nichts hat, ist mit Gott verbunden.
Wer Etwas hat, kommt nicht zum Ziel,
Denn Etwas ist dem nichts zu viel.
[He who has all, has nothing found,
He who has nothing with God is bound.
He who has little comes not to the prize,
For even a little is naught in His eyes.]
Wer diese Armuth hat gefunden,
Hat Höll und Teufel überwunden.
Und lebet in dem grossen All,
Ist reich und arm in gleichem Fall.
[He who poverty has found,
Has Hell and the Devil gone 'round,
And lives in the great Universe,
Rich despite his empty purse.]
Not long after this book was printed, the cloister acquired an additional press from Benjamin Franklin in nearby Philadelphia. Although the Ephrata community gradually declined after the American Revolution, its presses were taken elsewhere and remained in use for many years, possibly as late as the early twentieth century.
Special Collections Librarian