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Bethlehem's Moravian Church settlement one step closer to World Heritage Site status

World Heritage Site
Jim Deegan
The Brethren's House near Main and Church streets in Bethlehem was built by Moravians in 1748 and was a center of Moravian industry and culture through the years. Bethlehem's World Heritage Commission has been working to get the city's original Moravian settlement added to the list of United Nations World Heritage Sites.

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Years in the making, the U.S. government has officially submitted a nomination for the city's historic Moravian Church settlement to be designated a World Heritage Site.

The application by the U.S. Department of the Interior is a first in that it is a multi-national one.

It encompasses an effort by historians to include Bethlehem with the town of Herrnhut, Germany, and the village of Gracehill, Northern Ireland — and have them join Christiansfeld, Denmark, which was designated a World Heritage site in 2015.

  • Bethlehem's Moravian roots date to 1741
  • Portions of the original settlement remain intact
  • The Moravians fled central Europe in search of religious freedom

All were Moravian Church settlements organized by German-speaking people who immigrated from the modern-day Czech Republic in search of religious freedom.
In Bethlehem, much of the Moravians' roots and culture remain, and portions of the settlement are still intact.

Officials announced the nomination Wednesday morning. World Heritage sites are designated by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee — a process that is likely still two or so years away from gaining approval.

"With its core of original buildings, Bethlehem preserves some of the most important structures and sites relating to the Moravians in the New World ..."
Announcement by the City of Bethlehem

Besides certifying historic significance, designation as a World Heritage Site is coveted in the present day for its potential tourism implications.

There are just 24 World Heritage Sites in the U.S. and 1,154 around the world. The Grand Canyon and the Great Wall of China are among them.

Bethlehem’s World Heritage Commission has been working for years to prepare for the nomination and unite with the other applicants to form a single worldwide Moravian Church Settlement Site.

The Bethlehem area under consideration comprises 14 acres in the area of West Church Street that includes buildings such as Central Moravian Church, the 1741 Gemeinhaus and the 1744 Single Sisters' House.

The founding of Bethlehem

Also included are God's Acre Cemetery and the Colonial Industrial Quarter on the hillside below Central Moravian Church and where the Hotel Bethlehem now stands. Monacacy Creek was used by Moravian settlers for drinking water and for energy, to power mills and Bethlehem's early trades.

Said the news release announcing the official nomination: "With its core of original buildings, Bethlehem preserves some of the most important structures and sites relating to the Moravians in the New World and is significant as an outstanding example of Moravian architecture and town planning. The settlement played a key role in both the international and American Moravian communities."

Representative from the other nations involved in the application visited Bethlehem in 2021.

The city's rich history and reputation as an American manufacturing power are traced to its founding in 1741.

Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf, a German religious reformer and bishop of the Moravian Church, christened the new Moravian settlement on Christmas Eve that year.