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A Rare Hymnal Finds a Home

The Moravian Archives has joined with the Moravian Music Foundation to make a purchase that has Archivist C. Daniel Crews and Foundation Director Nola Reed Knouse bubbling with enthusiasm.

Rare Hymnal

The purchase is a rare 1615 Czech-language hymnal of the Bohemian Brethren, the Ancient Unity of the Moravian Church.

“It is one of only three known copies in the country,” said Director Knouse. “The other two are at the Library of Congress in Washington and at the Northern Province Archives in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.”

The Archives portion of this purchase was arranged through our Friends of the Archives. Sincere thanks are given to our Friends for their continued support which makes acquisitions like this possible.

The hymnal is truly an extraordinary acquisition and lovely to behold. A small folio, it measures 11½ inches by 8 inches. Tooled dark brown leather over wood boards forms the cover that is reinforced with metal corners and hinges. Inside, elaborate woodcut illustrations are interspersed with the hymns and hymn tunes.  In all, though a few pages are torn and some have been repaired, those are only occasional blemishes of a remarkably beautiful and well preserved treasure.

The 1615 hymnal was one in a long line of hymnals produced by the Ancient Unity. The earliest was 1505, though earlier publications included some Bohemian Brethren hymns.

Rare Hymnal – Close Up

This copy of the 1615 hymnal carries an extra bonus. “It has hand written notations in the margins,” said Director Knouse. “They are in several different hands, and they go at least halfway through the book.” What do the notations refer to? “I don’t know yet,” said Director Knouse, “I want to compare them with the notations in the 1618 hymnal and find out.”

The 1615 hymnal is not the oldest thing in the Archie K. Davis Center, which houses both the Moravian Archives and Moravian Music Foundation. That honor goes to a 1544 German-language hymnal that the Music Foundation purchased in 1961. But the 1615 hymnal, Archivist Crews and Director Knouse agree, is the second oldest item in the Davis Center.

As for joint ownership of the 1615 hymnal, it makes perfect sense, Director Knouse said. “I can’t read Czech, but Daniel can.”