Johannes Kelpius collection of German hymns

Collection Am.088

(0.15 Linear feet  (1 volume))

Summary Information

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Kelpius, Johannes, 1663-1708
Johannes Kelpius collection of German hymns
0.15 Linear feet  (1 volume)
Finding aid prepared by Sarah Newhouse
This finding aid was created during the Digital Center for Americana Project Phase II, which was funded by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Richard Lounsbery Foundation.
This collection contains one volume of German hymns hand-written by Johannes Kelpius, known as the hermit of the Wissahickon; also included are hymns by Johann Gottfried Seelig, Bernhard Kasten, and others.

Preferred Citation note

[Indicate cited item or series here], Johannes Kelpius collection of German hymns (Collection Am .088), The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

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Biographical/Historical note

Johannes Kelpius (1667–1708) was a German Pietist who came to the Pennsylvania wilderness in 1694 with his followers to prepare for the Second Coming, which they believed would happen in that year. In 1695 they established a hermitage on the Wissahickon Creek outside of Philadelphia where they lived a life of contemplation and public service, operating a school and holding public religious services. Kelpius's group became known as The Hermits or Mystics of the Wissahickon, The Society of the Woman in the Wilderness (from an obscure passage in the Book of Revelation), and the Hermits on the Ridge. The group included Conrad Matthai and Christopher Witt. In 1700 Kelpius was called to help govern the growing community of Germantown, although he declined the offer by declaring himself civiliter mortuus (civically dead) and remained devoted to his role as a spiritual leader. He is known for his hymns and his book on prayer,  A Short, Easy, and Comprehensive Method of Prayer. After Kelpius's death in 1708, Conrad Matthai became the leader of the Hermits of the Wisahickon, but their numbers dwindled. Christopher Witt (d.1765) was the last surviving member.

Kelpius was indirectly instrumental in the founding of another southeastern Pennsylvania German religious group when Conrad Beissel (1691-1768) came to Pennsylvania intending to join the Hermits of the Wissahickon. But by the time he arrived in 1720, Kelpius had died, so Beissel started his own religoius community -- the Ephrata Clositer -- which would become well known for its music and book printing.

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Scope and Contents note

This collection contains one volume, a compilation of handwritten German hymns without musical notation. It contains a note from Samuel Pennypacker that describes the discovery and identification of the volume in 1894. The hymns in this volume were written by Johannes Kelpius, Bernhard Kasten, Johann Gottfried Seelig, and other unknown authors. Nineteen of the hymns written or compiled by Kelpius, seven of which are complete, two partial, and only titles are provided for the rest. There are also thirteen hymns by Bernhard Kasten and four by Johann Gottfried Seelig. This volume is the only extant Seelig manuscript (or as Pennypacker states, the only one "which the ravages of time have spared"). In 1772 an unknown writer added the last hymn in the volume.

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

 The Historical Society of Pennsylvania March 2012

1300 Locust Street
Philadelphia, PA, 19107

Conditions Governing Access note

This collection is open for research.

Immediate Source of Acquisition note

Gift of Samuel Pennypacker.; 1900 acquired

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Related Materials

Related Archival Materials note

At the Historical Society of Pennsylvania:

Abraham H. Cassel collection (1610)

Francis Daniel Pastorius papers (0475)

Johannes Kelpius portrait by Christopher Witt (1882.1)

Ferdinand J. Dreer autograph collection (0175)

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Controlled Access Headings


  • Music--Religious--18th century
  • Religion and Spirituality--Philadelphia--18th century
  • Theosophy--Philadelphia--18th century

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General note

Project themes: ethnic - Philadelphia / Germantown / early German / NEH2010; Previous Collection or Call Numbers: 0336

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Ahlstrom, Sydney E. A Religious History of the American People. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1973.

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