Moravian Church Manuscripts

Scope and Content

There are original documents from the period 1746-1861, transcripts made by John Norman Libbey, Principal of the Moravian College at Fairfield, from the archives of the British Province in London and from those of Herrnhut in Germany, and papers and reference tools illustrating Libbey's work as an historian of the Moravians. These records shed light both on the European background of the Church and on its development in Britain and Ireland. Most notable is an almost complete set of the Moravian headquarters diary, consisting of an 18th-century English translation for 1747-1753 and 1755-1764, and a German version for 1747-1754. Libbey's working papers (Eng MSS 1054-1087) include a History of Unitas Fratrum in four notebooks, lists of English ministers and other Moravian labourers up to 1900, analyses of the contents and authors of Moravian hymn-books from 1741 to 1940, and correspondence with English, American and German Moravian scholars, 1900-1941. This collection includes transcripts of material at the Moravian Church Archives (Provincial Archives) in London: see; and the Herrnhut archives: see

The items are individually numbered English MSS 110, 871, 897-898, 905, 910, 945-950, 965, 1054-1087, 1244 and 1276.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Moravian Church is the oldest Free Church in Northern Europe. It was founded in 1457, arising out of the work of John Hus, the Bohemian martyr, who himself was inspired by the Englishman John Wyclif. After flourishing in Moravia and Bohemia as the Unitas Fratrum, it was almost wiped out during the Thirty Years War. In 1722 a company of those still faithful to the teachings of the Brethren took refuge in Saxony, where they built a town, Herrnhut, reviving the elements of the original church and founding the Renewed Moravian Church.

The Moravians took an active part in the evangelical revival in England during the 18th century, being closely associated for a time with John Wesley. Theirs was also the first Protestant body to venture out as a church on foreign missions, in 1732. Moravians have no doctrinal peculiarities to propagate; their emphasis is on conduct and fellowship. Their church is governed by provincial synods, the bishops having only spiritual and administrative authority. The music in Moravian churches is famous, especially the part-singing of the congregations.

In the 18th century some congregations were established as Settlements, where Moravians might live and follow their private vocations as members of a disciplined Christian Brotherhood. One of these settlements, Fairfield, at Manchester, was opened in 1785. The village was self-contained and self-governing, with community houses for sisters and brethren, who applied themselves to the varied work of the settlement. The work of the Moravian Theological College was transferred to Fairfield in 1875 and continued there in the original Sisters House until 1958.

Access Information

The collection is available for consultation by any accredited reader.


Description compiled by Jo Klett, project archivist, with reference to:

Other Finding Aids

Catalogued in the Hand-List of the Collection of English Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library, 1928 (English MS 110), Supplementary Hand-List of the Collection of English Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library, 1937 (English MSS 871, 905), Hand-List of the Collection of English Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library, 1937-1951 (English MSS 910, 945-950, 965, 1054-1087) and Hand-List of the Collection of English Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library, 1952-1970 (English MSS 1244, 1276). See also Frank Taylor, 'The John Rylands Library, 1936-72', Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, vol. 71, no. 2 (1989), p. 42.

Custodial History

The majority of Moravian manuscripts were given to the John Rylands Library by the Moravian Union: see below. Eng MSS 1054-1087 were given as part of the John Norman Libbey bequest, June 1946.

Related Material

For other Moravian material in the John Rylands University Library, see the Connor Manuscripts Collection, specifically Eng MS 706 .

The Moravian Church Archive and Library, Muswell Hill, London, holds records relating to various congregations, particularly those that are no longer active; mission records, including material relating to the Society for the Furtherance of the Gospel (SFG); synod minutes and resolutions; and records of the administrative bodies of the Province, the Moravian Union and Unitas Estates, 1747-20th century.

Geographical Names