A Moravian star (German: Herrnhuter Stern) is an illuminated Advent, Christmas, or Epiphany decoration popular in Germany and in places in America and Europe where there are Moravian congregations. The stars take their English name from the Moravian Church; in Germany, they are known as Herrnhut stars, named after the Moravian Mother Community in Saxony, Germany, where they were first commercially produced.
The first Moravian star is known to have originated in the 1830s at the Moravian Boys' School in Niesky, Germany, most probably as a geometry lesson or project. The first mention is of a 110-point star for the 50th anniversary of the Paedagogium (classical school for boys) in Niesky. Around 1880, Peter Verbeek, an alumnus of the school, began making the stars and their instructions available for sale through his bookstore. His son Harry went on to found the Herrnhut Star Factory, which was the main source of stars until World War I. Although damaged at the end of World War II during which Herrnhut was heavily damaged, the Star Factory resumed manufacturing them. Briefly taken over by the Communist DDR government in the 1950s, the factory was returned to the Moravian Church-owned Abraham Dürninger Company, which continues to make the stars in Herrnhut. Other star-making companies and groups have sprung up since then. Some Moravian congregations have congregation members who build and sell the stars as fund raisers.
Although the star originated in the church's schools as a geometry lesson, it was soon adopted throughout the Moravian Church as an Advent symbol. At the time, Moravian Congregations were inhabited exclusively by Moravians and the church owned and controlled all property. Daily life was centered on their Christian faith and there was no distinction between the secular and the sacred, even in their daily activities. Everything was considered worship. It did not take long for the stars to go from a pastime for children to an occupation for the congregation.
Moravian stars continue to be a popular Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany decoration throughout the world, even in areas without a significant Moravian Church presence. The stars are often seen in Moravian nativity and putz displays as a representation of the Star of Bethlehem. Large advent stars shine in the dome of the Frauenkirche in Dresden and over the altar of the Thomaskirche where Johann Sebastian Bach is buried in Leipzig. The city of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, founded by Moravians in 1766, uses the Moravian star as their official Christmas street decoration. In addition, a 31-foot Moravian star, one of the largest in the world, sits atop the North Tower of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center during the Advent and Christmas seasons. Another star sits under Wake Forest University's Wait Chapel during the Advent and Christmas seasons as well.
The use of the stars during the Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany seasons is also a tradition in the West Indies, Greenland, Suriname, Labrador, Central America, South and East Africa, Ladakh in India, and in parts of Scandinavia: wherever the Moravian Church has sent missionaries.
Types of stars
There are many forms of Moravian stars, but the most commonly seen and most widely available is the 26-point form, composed of eighteen square and eight triangular cone-shaped points. This shape is technically known as an augmented rhombicuboctahedron. Each face of the geometric solid in the middle, the rhombicuboctahedron, serves as the base for the pyramid augmentations or starburst points. No matter how many points a star has, a Moravian star has a symmetrical shape, based on polyhedra. There are Moravian stars with 20, 26, 32, 50, 64 and 110 points that are commonly hand-made in the Moravian schools. The variety comes from the division of the bases of the points—using an octagonal face instead of a square face, etc. For example the common 26-point Moravian star becomes a 50-point star when the squares and triangles that normally make up the faces of the polyhedron become octagons and hexagons. This leaves a 4-sided trapezoidal-shaped hole in the corners of the faces which is then filled with an irregular four sided point. These 4-sided points form a "starburst" in the middle of what looks like a regular 26-point star.
Simple paper decorations made from four folded strips of paper are sometimes also called Moravian stars, among many other names
- "The Moravian Star", retrieved 8-10-2007
- "History of the Moravian Star", retrieved 8-10-2007[dead link]
- Herrnhuter Stern GmbH, retrieved on 8-10-2007
- "Annual Star Lighting Service", Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, retrieved 12-22-2010
- "How To Make Stars", Nagle Design, retrieved 8-10-2007
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- This article incorporates information from the revision as of December 24, 2006 of the equivalent article on the German Wikipedia.