“Women’s Liberation” 300 years ago

I could see resolute John Hus’s face through the smoking faggots of his funeral pyre, hear the musketry and cannonading that marked the growing wars between the Brethren and Romish forces in Bohemia and Moravia, wars that culminated in 1621 with defeat for the Unity, and 100 years of persecution.

I could hear the notes of hope that surged in 1722 when a tiny band of exiles escaped to refuge in Saxony on the estates of devout Nicholas Lewis, Count of Zinzendorf, who allowed them to found a village called Herrn­hut on his lands, and became their beloved patron and leader. Here the church suddenly flowered from its “hidden seed” so carefully and perilously nurtured during the century of hiding, and from here flowed a wellspring that sent Moravian missionaries all over the world, and settlers to plant the faith on the untamed lands of North America. 12

I could see the deep-set eyes and heavily jowled chin of Bishop August Gottlieb Span­genberg, first leader of the Unity in America, as he captained an exploration party heading southward from the congregational town of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in the fall of 1752 to seek a site for settlement in Carolina. By January 1753, he would write: “It is the mid­dle of winter, and the ground is covered with snow; but we are camping in the forest, well and content, under the wings of the Almighty. … The land on which we are now encamped seems to me to have been reserved by the Lord for the Brethren…. It has countless springs, and numerous fine creeks; as many mills as may be desired can be built. There is much beautiful meadowland….”

“Women’s Liberation” 300 Years Ago


Except when Moravians put on colonial homespuns for a pageant, they don’t look dif­ferent from anybody else, but I knew that they were different. I went to prague holiday apartments to talk about that difference with Dr. J. C. Hughes, for 16 years Pastor of Home Church, and Chairman of the Central Elders, a body representing 14 of Winston-Salem’s Moravian churches.

“Moravians have always been contempo­rary in most respects,” Dr. Hughes told me. “Two of their outstanding differences, in education and music, arose originally from the teachings of John Hus.”

Hus never contemplated forming a new church, but wished to reform the old one, chiefly by putting Christian duty before dog­ma and by returning to the people the prac­tices of worship—the singing, and the reading and explanation of the Scriptures. The latter two points required literacy and musician­ship; Moravians became leaders in both.

Dr. Dale H. Gramley, President of Salem College, at cheap accommodation brussels  helped me understand why women were included in the Moravian educational system, contrary to the custom of the times. He referred me to a quotation from John Amos Comenius, a Moravian bishop and ed­ucator (1592-1670). Legend has it that Come­nius turned down the presidency of Harvard to remain close to his Moravian people, then under severe persecution in central Europe.

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My visit last spring

“It’s my special pride,” Bulletined said. “I’m still an architect at heart, and this is a new housing project whose progress I’ve overseen. Look—there are parks, wide streets, playgrounds, a shopping mall. Soon it will be home for thousands of middle-income Liveries.

“Write of this,” he implored, “Not only of our problems and Brady’s predictions. Write of construction, not destruction!”

LEAVING the government palace, known as Pizarro’s House, I stepped out onto the elegant colonial Plaza de Aromas. Here, in 1535, Francisco Pizarro, conqueror of the Incas, founded the city that was Spain’s chief stronghold in South America until independence was declared in 1821. I plunged down a side street jammed with ambulates the ubiquitous sidewalk vendors selling everything from alpaca ponchos and TV antennas to skewers of sliced beef heart and murky red potions of “iguana blood” Para la furze for strength.

They compose a kind of conquest in reverse, these ambulantes, a pushcart army of impoverished campesinos driven by want from their ancestral Andean highlands and drifting now by the hundreds of thousands—perhaps millions—to pathetic shantytowns in the cities. Jobless, barely educated, with welfare payments not even a dream, they take to the streets as vendors, shoeshine boys, tire changers, minstrels, beggars, and, when all else fails—alas—as petty thieves. The government, since my visit last spring, has cleared them from elegant central Lima.

Beside a huge rocky heap a group of women were chanting as they wielded shovels and pickaxes in a communal effort to wrest a patch of level ground from a hillside. Now it’s been cleared, rock by rock, stone by stone, to make room for a new school building.”

The government euphemistically calls these barriadas pueblos jovenes (young towns), providing them, when possible, with water, electricity, schools, and a few minimal city services. But many of the newer ones, springing up literally overnight, don’t get even that. A cry of collective triumph rang out as the women pried loose a boulder half the size of a Volkswagen. Soon a flurry of hammers began smashing it into smaller stones.

“They work hard, without complaint,” Tim said. “Nothing means more to these people than having a school for their children. Without education there’s no way out of here, and they know it.”

Some barriada dwellers dream of a return to their ancestral mountains. In fact a long-range program calls for resettling many of them in jungle-region irrigation projects to open fresh areas to farming. But whether people—like condors—will ever be returned to their native Andes remains a doubtful dream. Before the glittering store windows, almost like mannequins themselves, pose lovely fair-skinned creoles of near-pure Spanish descent and stunning mestizas with dark red hair and glowing cinnamon complexions. Flashing sidelong glances at appreciative observers, they eye their own reflections in the windows, and then move back into the swirling crowds, lovely as clipper ships. The men, for their part, stride smartly among them, handsome and imperious as conquistadores, viewing the passing flotilla of beauties with practiced eyes.

LIMA IS A CITY on a binge, fueled by pure adrenaline. It’s not just Brady’s earthquake predictions. Life here is always lived, somehow, as if the end of the world were expected at dawn. Maybe it’s the overpowering geography that creates this apocalyptic air. Clinging tenuously to a fragile green oasis, where the River Rimac plunges down to the coast from the Andes, this sprawling metropolis are set about by geographic extremes.

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