The Moravian Church took its beginning in 1415 after Jan Hus had been burnt at the stake in Konstanz as a heretic due to his criticism of the abuse of power and theology by the Catholic Church.
By the time of his death, Jan Hus had a significant number of supporters counting more than 150,000. In the wake of his execution and martyrdom various movements arose – including the first Moravian Church – a small group that founded the community called "Unitas Fratrum" and continued the efforts of Jan Hus.
During the 30 years of religious war in the period from 1618 to 1648, Unitas Fratrum was almost wiped out, and the few remaining members were scattered in all directions.
The establishment of Herrnhut
The Moravian Church and its ideas survived among these scattered refugees and in 1722, a small group fled from the present Czech Republic to Saxony. Here they were granted asylum by the German imperial count Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf.
Count Zinzendorf shared the wish of the refugees for liberty of conscience, and together they established the first Moravian town ever near the hillside called Hutberg. The town was named Herrnhut, which means both ”Under the guardianship of the Lord” and ”On guard for the Lord.” Continuously, more refugees came to the town many of which were skilled artisans, and soon the town and the buildings flourished just like the liberated spirit.
Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf
Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf (1700 - 1760) was an imperial count from a noble family in Saxony and he also had relatives at the Danish royal court. He was very occupied with religion and in particular with liberty of conscience. In 1728, the Danish Crown Prince Christian and Crown Princess Sofie Magdalene visited Herrnhut in order to see this very special town with their own eyes, and they were so enthusiastic about it that they invited Count Zinzendorf to the crowning ceremony of Christian VI in Copenhagen in 1731.
Count Zinzendorf was a popular figure in Copenhagen. However, Count Zinzendorf had enemies in Germany, and they warned the King against his more liberal perception of Christianity. Therefore, Count Zinzendorf and the Moravian Church were put in cold storage for the rest of the reign of Christian VI.
Count Zinzendorf had a life-long dream of establishing a Moravian colony in Denmark, but 13 years before his dream came true, he died in 1760, 59 years old.
The idea of a Danish Moravian town
During Christian VII’s great trip around Europe in 1768 together with Struensee they passed through the Moravian town of Zeist in Holland, which was a thriving and active town with well-organized trade and industry. After this trip, Struensee contacted a member of the Moravian community, Lorenz Prætorius, who was given the task of communicating with the Moravian community in Herrnhut, because the King wanted to have a similar town built in Denmark. In Herrnhut this request was received in a positive way, because a Moravian town or colony as the towns were also called would be an important resource centre for both the diaspora work and the missionary work in Greenland and the West Indies. The Moravians started looking for a suitable location where they could establish a town and found the estate Tyrstrupgård. There was already a small community to the west of Tyrstrupgård in the village of Stepping, where the Moravian community owned a small house.
Illegal to be a member of the Moravian Church
Tyrstrupgård was an estate owned by the Danish Crown and was bought in June 1772. Before that purchase, there were a number of things to bring in order: The King had to grant the Moravian Church a formal permission to settle within the borders of the country. The Moravian community stood firmly on their intention to keep functioning as a community in the town also after having established it. This however was not an option according to the legislation at that time. Firstly, there had been two directives since the 1740's that ruled it illegal for the population to become members of the Moravian Church. Secondly, there was no liberty of conscience and it was not possible to establish a new church order in replacement of the state church. Therefore, a directive was passed which granted the Moravian Church the right to be Moravian Church within the borders of Denmark and which at the same time annulled the previous prohibition. However, it must be underlined that this was only possible because the confessional basis of the Moravian Church is precisely the same as in the Lutheran state church.
In addition to ensuring that the Moravian Church could function as an independent church, King Christian VII offered various favourable conditions in connection with the foundation of Christiansfeld such as:
• Partly exemption from taxation for the first 10 years.
• A subsidy of 10% for all buildings erected during the first 10 years.
• Complete internal liberty in relation to running schools and trade companies.
• Exemption from military service.
• Exemption from duty for the first 10 years (this privilege was prolonged until 1802).
Struensee was executed after the concession had been worked out, but the new government confirmed the concession on 13 August 1772, and thus everything was ready for the construction work to begin. Johannes Prætorius, who was the son of Lorenz Prætorius, became the first minister of the community and together with Swedish Jonathan Briant he was responsible for the establishment of the town. The land was surveyed and on 1 April 1773, the foundation stones for the first four buildings were laid down: the first Moravian assembly house, the house of the minister, the house of the principal and the Moravian lodging house (the hotel). The first to arrive in the new town were 22 people, one of which was a Dane while the other 21 persons came from other Moravian settlements.
The establishment of Christiansfeld
Johannes Prætorius, the son of Lorenz Prætorius, became the first minister of the community and together with Swedish Jonathan Briant he was responsible for the establishment of the town. The land was surveyed and on 1 April 1773, the foundation stones for the first four buildings were laid down: the first Moravian assembly house, the house of the minister, the house of the principal and the Moravian lodging house (the hotel). The first to arrive in the new town were 22 people, one of which was a Dane while the other 21 persons came from other Moravian settlements.
In the course of 10 years, all the central buildings had been erected and after 30 years, the town was practically completed.