The site

Herrnhut, located in Saxony, Germany, approximately twenty kilometres both from the border with Poland and Czechia, holds historical and spiritual significance as the birthplace of the Renewed Moravian Church. Established in 1722, the town's name translates to "Lord's Watch" in German. It served as the foundational settlement and embodiment of the principles that defined all Moravian Church communities.

Herrnhut stands as the original and archetypal Moravian Church settlement, serving as a model for the subsequent twenty-seven Moravian settlements established between 1738 and 1807 across Europe and North America. The town's development was guided by centralised and sophisticated church administration, showcasing a unique architectural design and construction approach unparalleled on a global scale at the time. Herrnhut remained a central hub for the worldwide Moravian Church until the late 19th century, with many of the original administrative buildings still preserved today.

The settlement of Herrnhut was meticulously planned as an ideal model community for the Moravian Church, reflecting its utopian vision of communal living. The town centre and its surroundings feature remarkable buildings representative of the 18th-century "Moravian Church Civic Baroque" architectural style, which later influenced the design of other settlements.

Notably, the prototype Moravian Church cemetery, known as "God's Acre," holds significance as the model replicated in Moravian Church cemeteries worldwide. Its layout was designed in 1731, with lime avenues added in 1742 and 1752/1753 to divide the cemetery into sections. The cemetery's simplicity and clear forms captivate visitors.

God's Acre in Herrnhut is home to over 6,300 grave plates dating from the 18th century to the present. The grave plates, laid on the ground, follow a consistent concept and design, varying in material, size, ornamentation, typography, and state of conservation. The older plates generally exhibit more wear and tear compared to the recent ones.

Currently, the historic ensembles of Herrnhut are being considered for inclusion in the transnational extension of the UNESCO World Heritage site Christiansfeld in Denmark. This extension aligns with the World Heritage Committee's decision to inscribe Christiansfeld as a World Heritage Site in 2015. Alongside other proposed sites for the extension, such as Bethlehem in the United States and Gracehill in the United Kingdom, Herrnhut exemplifies the interconnectedness of all Moravian settlements and their remarkable coherence in religious life, architecture, and town planning.


The project

The European Heritage Volunteers Project presents an exciting opportunity for participants to engage with a historically significant site undergoing the process of inscription as a UNESCO World Heritage site. This academic endeavour will enable participants to gain valuable knowledge and hands-on experience while contributing to the conservation and understanding of Herrnhut's unique cultural heritage. The project encompasses two main areas of work: documentation and research of the grave plates, and maintenance and basic conservation measures.

The documentation phase focuses on meticulously capturing the details of the grave slabs found in the oldest sections of the historic cemetery known as "God's Acre". Although an existing database contains inscriptions for most of the 6,300 grave slabs, it lacks visual documentation and information regarding their state of conservation. To address this gap, the participants will collect this information and, in this way, contribute to the future study and preservation of these important historical artefacts. Given the considerable number of grave slabs, this work will extend over subsequent years to ensure a comprehensive record. Already this work began in 2023 with that year’s European Heritage Volunteers Project in the area of graves for the ancestral male deceased community members, and this year the works will be continued on the section of the deceased ancestral female community members.

The maintenance and basic conservation work is rooted in the information gathered during the documentation phase. Small yet critical interventions can mitigate potential risks. Notably, the oldest grave slabs, affected by natural decay, often no longer rest horizontally, posing a risk of damage or disintegration at the corners. To safeguard these vulnerable slabs, a careful process will involve temporarily removing them, levelling the ground, and meticulously reinstating the slabs to their original positions. Moreover, the removal of soil, grass, and other vegetation that cover the grave slabs will be crucial in averting persistent humidity, particularly for sandstone grave plates. This conservation work ensures the long-term preservation and integrity of these important cultural objects.

The grave slabs in Herrnhut's cemetery embody the Moravian Church's ideal of equality. These uniform and carefully crafted slabs represent the church's commitment to communal living and the equal worth of every individual. Participants in the project will not only contribute to the conservation of these slabs but also gain insights into the Moravian Church's vision of an egalitarian society, deepening their understanding of this significant aspect of Moravian heritage.

During the days when the participants will be in Herrnhut for the European Heritage Volunteers Project, the community will eagerly await the final decision of the World Heritage Committee meeting in Delhi, India, regarding the site's inscription as an extension to the Moravian Church Settlements UNESCO World Heritage sites. This momentous occasion presents a unique opportunity to provide the participants with insights into the inscription process of a UNESCO World Heritage site, particularly focusing on the community involvement required for this specific site. Another intriguing aspect for discussion is the site's inclusion as an extension to an already inscribed site, potentially elevating it to the status of a transnational site pending approval by the committee in Delhi. If the decision is favourable, it will likely be celebrated as a significant milestone in Herrnhut's history and heritage conservation efforts, an event the participants will have the privilege to share with the host community.

In addition, through the educational programme the participants will delve into the rich history, cultural significance, and unique aspects of Herrnhut and the Moravian Church. Guided visits to key sites within the region associated with the Moravian Church, will offer valuable insights into the foundations, development, and impact of this religious community. Additionally, conversations and exchanges with the local representatives of the community will allow the participants to explore the philosophical underpinnings, social ideals, and distinctive community vision that shaped the Moravian Church and influenced the creation of Herrnhut as an exemplary model town. Participants will have the opportunity to gain a deep appreciation for the heritage, values, and intangible cultural aspects of the Moravian Church's legacy while fostering a broader understanding of its global significance from this cultural exchange perspective.


The project will take place from July 21st to August 03rd, 2024, and is organised by European Heritage Volunteers in cooperation with Evangelical Brethren Community in Herrnhut, the Association of the Sponsors of God’s Acre Herrnhut, and Herrnhut Municipality.

The European Heritage Volunteers Project is part of the World Heritage Volunteers Campaign for 2024, a worldwide initiative taking place yearly within the framework of the World Heritage Education Programme at the UNESCO World Heritage Centre.

European Heritage Volunteers