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Moravian Archives opens its vault for Bethlehem Heritage Day

Moravian archives 16x9.jpg
Mariella Miller
The Moravian Archives in Bethlehem started keeping records for the Moravian Church in 1741. It keeps records for the group as a whole and for individual parishes.

  • The Moravian Archives was founded in 1741
  • An assessor from UNESCO World Heritage Center visited the archives in July as part of the site selection process
  • Officials at the Moravian Archives will share the city's history with the public as part of Bethlehem Heritage Day on Nov. 11

BETHLEHEM, Pa. — Before there was a state of Pennsylvania and even before the United States declared its independence, there was Bethlehem.

And even before there was a Bethlehem, there was a community of Moravian faithful who came together to plan and build the foundation of the city that exists today.

To celebrate the well-tended roots of the community, even as it spread out from the Lehigh River, the staff at the Moravian Archives is hosting Bethlehem Heritage Day from 9 a.m. to noon on Nov. 11 to share with the public the same artifacts it shared with UNESCO World Heritage officials in July at its address on 41 W. Locust St.

As Historic Bethlehem continues through the process of becoming a UNESCO World Heritage site, the public is invited to a free tour of the archive facility and all the riches it holds.

The Moravian Archives is a nonprofit church organization that serves as the official repository for the Moravian Church in America — Northern Province. More than 500 researchers from around the world visit the archives each year to study its holdings which primarily document Moravian Church activity in North America, according to a recent written release.

The archives also hold records for individual parishes, said Paul Peucker, director and archivist at the Bethlehem facility.

A recent tiptoe into the archive's climate-controlled vault revealed rows and rows of paper files and boxes, artwork created through the centuries, and maps of Bethlehem as it was taking form.

The temperature is a crisp 65 degrees in the vault with a constant humidity of 55%. Security is also very strict and includes a fire extinguishing system that would take the oxygen out the the room in the event of a fire.

Indeed, security was so strict at one time, Peucker said, that decades ago the archives' director would not allow signage on the outside of the building for fear of theft.

It was only 15 years ago that changed, Peucker said.

The maps were a very important part of the summer World Heritage site visit, he said, and are particularly important for visitors of the public to see.

"We chose maps that display the whole development of Bethlehem," Peucker said, the earliest one being from 1740 that showed small plots drawn in recognizable neighborhoods that include the still-vital Lehigh and Church streets.

"The World Heritage folks loved it," he said. "It was very interesting to them and helped them understand how Bethlehem developed."

Bethlehem Heritage Day will include refreshments from local vendors and will feature traditional homemade Moravian sugar cake, as well.