Herrnhut is a small town in Saxony with a population of less than 3000, which is the international headquarters of the Moravian Brethren, a religious movement that had a profound influence in many countries in the eighteenth century, and established more than 30 model settlements in other countries.
The Moravian Church developed from the preaching of Jan Hus (c 1369-1415) in the late fourteenth century. Hus protested against what he perceived as errors in the Roman Catholic Church, to which some of his followers eventually returned, but others established the group that became the Moravian Brethren at Kunvald, Bohemia (in the present-day Czech Republic) in 1457. The Moravians suffered prosecution during the Thirty Years War and afterwards, particularly in the Habsburg Empire, and some were dispersed to the Netherlands, to some German states and to present-day Poland. The movement was revived by Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf (1700-60), a Saxon landowner, who spent much of his life establishing a model Christian community on his family estates at Berthelsdorf, to which he admitted persecuted members of the Brethren from Moravia. The settlement, about 3 km from Berthelsdorf, was named Herrnhut (the Lord’s watch) in 1722.
In 1727 the community experienced a religious revival, and began to despatch missionaries to other countries, in Europe and beyond. In Britain, the Moravians influenced John Wesley (1707-91) and other leaders of the Evangelical Revival, and established model communities, whose distinguished eighteenth century buildings remain, at Fairfield near Manchester, Fulneck near Leeds, Ockbrook near Derby and at Gracehill in Co Antrim.
The history of Herrnhut is portrayed in the town museum, which occupies a Baroque house of 1764, and the town also houses an important ethnographic collection, established in 1878 at the instigation of Bernard Kinne (1812-95) to display the ways of life of peoples in all parts of the world. In 2004 it merged with museums in Leipzig and Dresden to form the Staatliche Ethnographische Sammlungen Sachsen.