The little east German village of Herrnhut, (meaning “under the Lord’s protection”) was founded at the beginning of the 18th century by the forefathers of the Moravian Church, who were forced to flee their homeland of Bohemia and Moravia due to religious persecution. Thanks to the shelter provided in 1722 by Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf to two Moravian families, the new settlement in the region of Oberlausitz was founded and quickly attracted many more Moravian refugees. They came from a variety of different regions, like Bohemia, Moravia, but also the kingdom of Germany and Scandinavia. As it can be seen on the drawing from 1753, Zinzendorfplatz, as we know it today, was the centre of the young settlement of Herrnhut. Around this central square we see the Congregational Hall (Church Meeting Room) and the Choir Houses, attached to which are the accommodations for the families. God’s acre is depicted in the foreground to the right, although in reality it lays north east of the town centre.
The beginnings of the Moravian Church date back to 1457, when the Bohemian reformer Jan Hus formulated his objections to some of the practices of the Catholic Church. Due to increasing persecution, the Moravians eventually were forced to leave their home country to freely practice their Protestant beliefs. Soon, due to the religious refugees, the new town of Herrnhut became the centre of Christian renewal and the birthplace of the new “Herrnhuter Brüderunität” ("Unity of the Brethren"). In 1732 the first missionaries from the Moravian Church travelled into the farthest corners of the world to spread the Gospel and message of Jesus Christ. In many parts of Germany, further Moravian settlements, including churches and schools were founded.
Find more info on the Moravian Church and their faith and traditions in one of our blog posts.
Whilst their parents were dedicated to their missionary work in remote corners of the world, like the Caribbean, their children were sent back home to live and receive education in Moravian boarding schools. One of those schools became the “birthplace” of the first Herrnhut Star. At the beginning of the 19th century, the first star made of paper and cardboard was created by a teacher. He used the stars in mathematics class to help children better understand geometry: "After the battle of Waterloo in 1815, an officer appeared (...). As an educator, he understood the difficulties the students were having with mathematics. During some dreary November days, he built all kinds of shapes. These were wrapped with tissue paper and lit from within. The best were then finished with pyramid shaped points. The high point was gluing on the points on the evening before the first Sunday of Advent - a star was created." *
Therefore, the star making also comforted the homesick children, who were separated from their parents for a long time, in the Advent and Christmas season. Soon the tradition of star crafting on the first advent Sunday became a comforting Christmas tradition. The first ever crafted stars were coloured white and red – white for purity and red for the blood of Jesus Christ. They also, until this day, represent the star of Bethlehem.
At the end of the 19th century, businessman Pieter Hendrik Verbeek invented the first star with 25 points attached to a metal frame. This innovation made it possible to take the star apart and ship it. The Herrnhut Mission Book Shop served as the first distributor. In 1925, the special structure of the stars - 17 points with a square base and 8 points with a triangular base - was finally patented and the Herrnhut Star company was founded. Since thi day, the Herrnhut manufacturer operates its headquarters in Herrnhut til this day.
Find more info on the Herrnhut Manufacturer here
For an even more detailed and illustrated story of the Herrnhut Star, take a glance at our book "Morning Star, O Cheering Sight..." available in our shop.
Herrnhut stars today make special appearances not only during the Advent and Christmas season as beautiful decoration in apartments, gardens, churches, and public outdoor spaces. For 160 years now, these stars have been handmade in different sizes and colours. Apart from the traditional paper stars used indoors, there are also weatherproof plastic stars ideally suited for outdoors. The stars come in the traditional colours of red, yellow and white, but are also available in blue, green, multi-coloured or in a very unique special edition colour, that is always revealed in spring of each year. The Herrnhut Stars make not only a great Christmas decoration but can be used year-round for many different occasions and holidays.
"Morning Star, O cheering sight!
Ere thou cam'st how dark earth's night!
Jesus mine, in me shine;
Fill my heart with light divine.
Morning star, thy glory bright
Far excels the sun's clear light:
Jesus be constantly,
More than thousand suns to me." *
Traditional Moravian Church song, published 1727
* Theile, Dorothee; "Morning Star, O Cheering Sight...", Comenius-Buchhandlung GmbH, 2010 (find it in our shop)