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18 June 2014
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Legacies - Gracehill

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Gracehill -Where Time Stands Still

The Moravian settlement at Gracehill had its beginnings in the 15th Century. Inspired by the writings of Wycliff - the English theologian, John Hus, the then Rector of Prague University, preached fearlessly for reform in the Catholic Church. Because of his outspoken views he was condemned at the Council of Constance and died at the stake in 1415.

Hus could be described as the first Protestant, as it would be 100 years later until Martin Luther nailed his thesis to the church door in Wittenberg (Germany) demanding similar changes.

The followers of Hus kept the Unitas Fratrum (United Brethren) teachings alive, and their beliefs spread to the Americas, the Carribean, Africa, eventually landing in England, where John Wesley and his associates took interest.

John Cennick, one of the founder members of the Moravian Church in Ireland
One of John Wesley`s associates -John Cennick, was to become instrumental in founding the Moravian church in Ireland.

While preaching in Dublin in 1746, Cennick inspired a Ballymena merchant called Joseph Dean, who asked the preacher to speak in his hometown.

The initial audience in Ballymena- a few dozen, grew to over 2000 in the days that followed. Although the majority greeted the new thinking with an open mind, some in the neighbourhood were far from happy - Cennick had his life threatened and had to leave hastily.

Two years later in 1748, with the support of the Bishop of Down and Conor, Cennick began to preach to hamlets in and around the Ballymena area, making a family home in Craigbelly (Crebilly). A year later in 1749, he settled in Gloonen, a townland between Ahoghill and Gracehill.

In the 1950's an impatient gardener was fed up having to cut the grass in and around the maze of headstones at Gracehill. His solution was to lift all of the heavy sandstone tablets, placing them at the edge of the path, as he happily went about his work.
However John Cennick`s relentless preaching, travelling and working on the land, took its toll - "he laboured until dusk and wrote at starlight"- and a violent fever took his life, aged just 39.

For Moravians, the burial ground was known as "Gods Acre" and had a strict layout. Men were buried to the left and women to the right of a central path. All the headstones were of the same shape and design - the Moravians believe that everyone is equal in death - and were laid almost flat on the ground.

The untimely death of John Cennick was a devastating blow, but as always in the history of the Moravian church, the seeds sown were nurtured and, in time, a thriving and successful settlement was formed.

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