Society of Woman in the Wilderness.

From Ephrata, Hotbed of Religion>>

Quite as curious as the experiment at Ephrata was the earlier colony on the Wissahickon, the Contented of the God-Loving Soul. This was better known as the Society of the Woman in the Wilderness because of its belief that the Woman in the Wilderness, mentioned in Revelation 12:14- 17 , foretold the second coming of Christ. Led by Johannes Kelpius, a mystic of the University of Altdorf, the Contented of the God-Loving Soul reached Bohemia Landing on the Chesapeake on the 12th of June, 1694. Clothed in coarse pilgrim garb or in the dress of German university students, they struck out for Philadelphia, arriving there the 23rd. That night, only a short way out of Penn's new city, they built a bonfire on a hill to celebrate Midsummer Night's Eve and scattered the burning brands down the hillside. The next morning they went on to Germantown, there to await the millennium. On the Ridge, a wooded hill above the Wissahickon, they built a log structure forty feet square, with a large room to serve as a chapel and small cells as bedrooms for the brethren. On the top of the building was an observatory equipped with a telescope or perspective glass. There each night one of the brethren watched the heavens for some celestial sign of the Bridegroom's coming "that their lamps might be trimmed and burning." Near-by, in a small cave to which he could retire and meditate, Kelpius set up his hermitage. In a small clearing by the monastery they planted a garden of medicinal herbs, possibly the first botanical garden in America.

Theirs was a monastic settlement; the brethren took vows of celibacy. Many of the votaries were learned men who had been driven from the German universities because of their unorthodox religious views. A smell of alchemy hung about this colony in which horoscopes were cast and the use of the divining rod was not unknown. When the year 1700 came and went, and the millennium on which they had counted did not take place, some of the brethren lost heart. Yet the following year they felt for a short time that their hopes were about to be realized. In this particular year they attached great importance to their celebration of Midsummer Night's Eve because it was their seventh Midsummer Night's Eve in America. According to a legend recorded later at Ephrata, the brethren saw a vague white moving figure in the air just as they were about to light their fire. As it came closer to them they saw that it was an angel, gloriously fair. Receding for a moment into the deep shadows of the hemlocks that towered above, it reappeared so that again they were able to see that it was an angel, "the fairest of the lovely," before it melted away into the forest. The enthralled votaries fell to their knees, feeling certain that the Heavenly Bridegroom was about to appear. Prayers were held until midnight, when the fires were lighted. Then with incantations the brethren flung the fiery embers down the hill. Throughout the rest of the night the brethren prayed. On the third night the apparition was seen once more and then it vanished forever. After this the brethren lost hope, and the community began to diminish until Kelpius's death in 1708 at the early age of thirty-five brought it to an end. Kelpius was buried in the garden at sunset to the chanting of De Profundis. As his body was lowered into the grave there was let loose a white dove that flew to the heavens and vanished over the hemlocks. Within a few years the abandoned monastery fell into ruins. Today the Society of the Woman in the Wilderness is only a memory.