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A perfectly preserved example of Moravian organisation


Boarding Schools
God's Acre
The Moravian Church is a Christian group of German origin. They place a high value in unity and charity. In the mid-18th century, a group of these worshippers settled in Northern Ireland. They built themselves a new settlement and named it "Gracehill", in honour of the grace of God.
Over the years, other Moravians immigrated, and left other marks on the country. However, this village was the only one they built on a full-scale. In the present, 250 years later, the place looks just as it did back then. That's because, in 1975, it was announced as Northern Ireland's very first official conservation area. This status was intended to ensure Gracehill's protection - and it worked, because the village has won international awards for its high standards.
As soon as you see the basic layout of the buildings, you can tell how devout the designers were. Everything is based around the church, which sits commandingly at the very centre of the settlement. It doesn't look like a traditional place of worship; on first glance it seems to be a normal Georgian house. There are certainly no imposing, cathedral-like spires, so it appears to be relatively friendly. Nevertheless, the rules were still quite strict. During services, there were different entrances for men and women.
This example of rigid organisation was echoed throughout the rest of the village. People were organised into groups called "choirs", and housed in specific areas. The widows, for example, would live separately from the single women, and families would be separated from single men. Everybody took charge of a specific trade or craft, such as lacing or weaving. In return for this work they were allowed to live in their houses for free. This system was designed to foster a sense of community. It also kept the village self-sufficient. The residents' lack of worries meant that they could focus properly on their religious activities.
The boarding schools were again divided by gender. Education was treated extremely importantly. The high standards meant that, before long, Gracehill had become famous. Ireland's richest children would be sent here to study, no matter how far away they lived. An inn was built just to house travelling parents. They thought it was worth it though, because it was said that a Moravian education was a "passport to the best in life".
The community was as organised in death as it was in life. Residents who passed away were buried in Gracehill's graveyard, which is known as "God's Acre". In fact, the place is still in use today. A central path divides it by gender: men on the left, and women on the right. To emphasise the equality of human beings, all the headstones are of the same shape and design.
Gracehill is a unique settlement. In 2006, it was given a memorable tribute by the BBC, who made it the subject of an episode in the TV series "Restoration Village". It helped highlight awareness of the wonderful preservation work done so far, and the work which must be continued.
Visitor Information
Gracehill Village is open access. For more information contact the Ballymena Tourist Information Centre. Tel: 028 2563 5900

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