Buried Treasure: The legend of Ephrata Cloister’s hidden golden chalice

In August, I enjoyed a VIP tour at Ephrata Cloister, where I explored the second and third floors of the Saron (the Sisters’ House) and Saal (the Meetinghouse), which are typically closed to the public.

Sisters’ House and Meetinghouse at the Ephrata Cloister.

During my visit, I learned several interesting facts about the people who once lived there. Here’s just one.

The first credited female composers in North America lived and wrote their music at the Ephrata Cloister. The Solitary Sisters wrote intricate hymn melodies and texts during the 1740s intended to be sung at worship services. Several compositions and lyrics in the illuminated manuscript known as the “Ephrata Codex” are attributed to Sister Föben (Christiana Lassie), Sister Ketura (Catherine Hagaman), and Sister Hanna (Hannah Lichty). Keep an eye out for a future post with more information on my visit.

While researching the Cloister for my article, I came across a buried treasure story hinted at in a September 1963 edition of the Lancaster New Era newspaper. That summer, state archeologists conducted the first scientific excavation at Ephrata Cloister. In addition to unearthing the original stone foundations of the 1735-1740 buildings, the team also recovered various American, English, and Spanish coins ranging in date from 1698 to 1804.

According to Ephrata residents, the King of Austria gave a golden chalice to the Cloister as a reward for their deep religious pity. The community’s leader, Conrad Beissel, decided the gift was far too worldly for the plain-living Solitary Ones. Legend has it that Beissel buried the opulent goblet on the campus in a cave, around or even under Mount Zion. The golden artifact has never been found.

The newspaper article said that shortly after they started digging, the scientists heard whispers of nearby buried treasure from Ephrata residents. Here’s the story they were told.

In the quiet town of Ephrata, nestled amidst the rolling hills of Pennsylvania, there existed a community of devout souls known as the Ephrata Cloister. Led by their spiritual guide, Conrad Beissel, these pious men and women were dedicated to a life of plain living and humble devotion. Their monastic settlement stood as a testament to their unwavering commitment to a simple, God-centered existence.

One fateful day, news arrived that filled its residents’ hearts with awe and trepidation. King Charles VI of Austria, a ruler known for his extravagant tastes and lavish gifts, had sent a remarkable offering across the ocean to this quiet corner of the New World.

Portrait of Charles VI by Jacob van Schuppen.

Word spread like wildfire. As the carriage bearing the royal gift arrived in Ephrata, the town square transformed into a spectacle of opulence as the King’s emissaries unveiled the astonishing golden treasure. The townsfolk marveled at the wealth that now lay before them, a stark contrast to their simple frontier lives.

Conrad Beissel, a man of deep spiritual conviction and the leader of the Ephrata Cloister, looked at the shimmering gold chalice and felt a weight descend upon his heart. He understood that these worldly riches clashed with the essence of their humble existence, their devotion to plain living, and their commitment to a life of spiritual purity.

However, Beissel had a secret plan. He knew that the gold was a distraction from their spiritual journey, no matter how magnificent. So, under the cover of night, Beissel and a few of his most trusted followers embarked on a mission to safeguard their community’s devotion.

With shovels in hand, they traversed deep within a small limestone cave on a secluded edge of the campus ground. They buried the King’s golden gift there, placing it in a hidden chamber known only to a select few.

In the years that followed, the gold goblet remained concealed, a testament to the unwavering commitment of the Ephrata Cloister to their simple way of life. The locals eventually forgot about the luxurious gift, focusing instead on the struggles of their daily colonial life.

Legend holds that this opulent golden chalice remains hidden still today in this simple limestone cave.

Planning Your Trip

While there is unlikely any buried treasure at the Ephrata Cloister, they possess countless priceless historical artifacts, so I strongly recommend planning a visit. The Ephrata Cloister is located at 632 W Main St, Ephrata, PA 17522. It is open from noon to 4 p.m. on Wednesday and Sunday and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Click here for additional visitation details.

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