The Moravians of Bethlehem

The old chapel from 1751

Bethlehem Pennsylvania is most famous for the Bethlehem Steel Company, which was at its peak, the second largest steel company in America. But before big company put its imprint on the city, the origins of the settlement go back to an obscure group called the Moravians. The name Moravian comes from Moravia, which was one of three (Bohemia, Silesia) historic regions that today make up modern Czech Republic. I take special interest in the region because my name Kralovec, is Bohemian, and my ancestor Andreas Kralovec, came to Wisconsin in the late 1800s from what was then Bohemia.

Bethlehem was exclusively Moravian for the first 100 years of its founding on 500 acres  of fertile farm land near the intersection of Monocacy creek and the Lehigh River in 1741. The Moravians were a bit cultish, living in communal groups by age, marital status and gender. They also had a communal socialist economic system which served them well in the early days. It must have been so difficult to clear land and produce food, avoid disease and native American attacks and thrive in the new world. The colony was opened up to others in 1844 and the communal, socialist system was also abandoned.

My children are fascinated by my historical tour of the communal buildings of the Moravians

The Moravians go back to a Bohemian man named Jan Hus. He is considered the first Protestant reformer, predating the more famous Martin Luther by 60 years. In reading Hus’s complaints against the Catholic church at the time, I pretty much agree with him wanting priests to marry, stop the selling of indulgences (basically bribes to get into heaven), eliminating the idea of purgatory, the mass to be said in Czech instead of Latin and laypersons to receive both bread and wine at communion. He was burned at the stake as a heretic 600 years ago this month (July 6, 1415). John Paul II, the Polish Pope, expressed “deep regret” for the act in 1999.

The Moravians, or United Brethren formed much after the death of Hus in Bohemia. They were persecuted in Catholic Hapsburg Europe but found refuge on the German estates of Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf in 1722. He greatly influenced the group, setting up a 100-years continuous prayer relay, starting the tradition of the daily watchword Bible study and most importantly for Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, sending out groups of missionaries around the world to start colonies. He visited Bethlehem and after a prayer service along the river, the citizens named the colony after the famous Biblical star.


Today one can visit the preserved early buildings of the Moravians, including the old cemetery.  There is a Moravian College and a Moravian Academy still in Bethlehem today and the Moravian church in America has about 750,000 members. The Moravians are also known for the Moravian star, the multi-pointed lighted star that adorns all Moravian homes. The city of Bethlehem in the 1930s as marketing campaign for tourists, created the lighted Christmas star on the hill of south mountain overlooking the city and named Bethlehem the “Christmas City”. 

I will be learning more about Moravians during my stay here in Bethlehem this summer.

The illuminated Moravian Star on South mountain overlooking Bethlehem. 

Visit to the Karadjordjevic Family Mausoleum

St. George’s Church, originally uploaded by bill kralovec.

In the spirit of Britian’s Royal wedding this week, we visited the Serbian royal family’s Mausoleum and museum complex in the small town of Topola, Serbia. Topola means “poplar tree” in Serbian and is located in the heart of Šumadija, the forested center of Serbia. This is the place where the founder of the Serbian Royal Family,  (Karadjordjevic), the famous “Black George,” started the first uprising against the Ottoman Turks in 1804.

A later descendent of Black George, King Petar I, began construction of a church in 1910.  The project was interrupted by World War I, and he died before it could be finished. His heir, King Alexander II, oversaw its completion. The church was dedicated to St. George in 1930. The church is on the peak of a small hill called Openlac near the original homestead of Black George. Masses were held there until 1947, when the Yugoslav government declared it a cultural landmark. Underneath the church is the Karadjordjevic family mausoleum. There are 19 members of the royal family buried there, including Black George himself.

It is an amazing building! There are 725 mosaics on the walls with a surface area of 3,500 square meters. The 40 million pieces provide the whole continuum of color, and the scenes depict either Bible stories or Serbian history. We were in awe walking through the place, with light striking at different angles. I highly recommend visiting the church.

The area surrounding the church is also beautiful and a perfect place for a picnic. Openlac in Serbian means the wooden pieces of carts. The wooded hill was used for centuries for wood collection by the locals. It is all preserved, including the vineyards of the royal family. It makes an ideal day trip from Belgrade. We also made the obligatory stop at the Aleksandrovic Winery, located 5 kilometers south of Topola. We tasted and purchased some of their wines, although we were a bit disappointed in the higher costs of the bottles. They used to be half the price of what you could buy in the supermarket in Belgrade. They are now 2-3 Euros cheaper and not worth the drive.

St. Sava’s Church


I took a photo Friday evening inside the giant St. Sava’s Church here in Belgrade. The church’s massive dome is 70 meters high and 10,000 people can attend mass. It can be seen from all over city. It is the third largest Orthodox church in the world and the largest neo-Byzantine building constructed in the 20th century. The Byzantine architecture style features a large, central, dome and thin windows to let in light. The inside is truly awe inspiring!

We walked down to the church from the main shopping area. I was surprised to see so many children and families near the church. It sits on a small hill surrounded by a park. There were roller bladers, kids playing tennis on the outside walls of the church, and teenagers riding mopeds up and down the side walks. No holy reverence here which is refreshing to experience. The church was open and a few people were taking photographs and looking around. Oliver and I went inside and were blown away.

As you can see in the photo, work is still being done on the church. Construction did not begin until 1935 and has been interrupted by the numerous wars Serbia has experienced. This is the first Orthodox Church I have been in and I was impressed by the mosaics on the walls, which are another feature of the Byzantine style. The Orthodox Church in Serbia is not under the direction of Greece and is independent and has its own pope (Patriarch) and hence the Serbian flag prominently displayed on the front entrance.

St. Savas Church At Night
St. Sava's Church At Night

The grave of Serbian Saint Lazar is in the basement of the church. He is the Serbian Jesus. He was a Serbian noble who died at the famous Battle of Kosovo in 1389. According to legend, he was visited the night before the battle by the Prophet Elijah in the form of a gray falcon. Elijah offered Lazar an Earthly Kingdom or a Heavenly Kingdom. Lazar takes the Heavenly Kingdom, but to earn it, he has to die on the battlefield. He was canonized by the Serbian Orthodox Church and his feast day is the most holiest of all days in the Serbian calendar, June 28.

The church is named after the son of the founder of the Serbian medieval empire. Sava was originally Prince Rastko Nemanjić and he lived in the late 1100’s – early 1200’s. He was the founder of the Serbian Church. The location of the church was put here because Sava’s remains were believed to be burned here in the 1500’s by the Ottoman Turk leader Sinan Pasha.

I really felt I was at the heart of Serbdom! With the church being in the center of Belgrade, the capital of Serbia and with the remains of two of the founders of the Serbian nation and church here, you can’t get more Serbian than this. With the breakup of Yugoslavia over and a new era for Serbia, hopefully they can complete the church. The church represents the long history of the Serbs and the bright future ahead for the country.