Newest UNESCO World Heritage Site: Next Door to Moravian Village?

India’s Taj Mahal.

The Great Wall of China.

Egypt’s Great Pyramids of Giza.

Pennsylvania’s Historic Moravian Bethlehem District.

Waitaminnit!  What is Moravian Village’s next-door-neighbor doing in there with some of the most treasured sites on the planet?

Understandably, the first three are on the UNESCO World Heritage List of historic sites, to be forever protected and preserved because “they are considered to be of outstanding universal value to humanity” according to UNESCO.

The fourth–located just steps away from our own campus here in Bethlehem–is currently a nominee to join this elite UNESCO echelon of the most cherished and visited destinations in the world.  And as of this writing, the final decision is just 10 months away.

It’s been a long journey to pursue this global glory.  The process began in 2002 and it took until 2016 for Historic Moravian Bethlehem to be honored with placement on the U.S. Tentative List for Eventual Nomination, becoming an Official Nominee in 2017.  

In the summer of 2024 the UNESCO World Heritage Committee is slated to deliver their long-awaited decision.  All of us here in the Christmas City are just hoping we can hold our breath for that long.

There are currently 1,154 sites on the UNESCO World Heritage list; only 24 of them are located in the U.S.  If all goes as we hope, Bethlehem’s Historic Moravian district will be the 25th destination to bear this honor, putting our neighbor (and namesake) in the same revered company as the Statue of Liberty, the Grand Canyon and Philadelphia’s Independence Hall. 

According to Travel + Leisure magazine, the 14-acre Historic Moravian Bethlehem site “has more original structures than Colonial Williamsburg and the district’s 1741 community house is believed to be the largest 18th century log structure is continuous use in the U.S.”  

The colonial-era buildings are certainly significant, but their existence is far deeper than stone and wood.  They stand as structural witnesses to the soul of the 18th century Moravians whose mission of faith and fervent belief in equality for all people—regardless of religion, gender or genetic background–set them worlds apart from the societal norms of that time and many eras thereafter. This ethic of faith and inclusion carries through in the work of the Moravian Church Community to this day.  

“Bethlehem became the religious and administrative center of Moravian activities in North America.  It consisted of religious, domestic, and industrial components, showing the full scope of Moravian community life in a North American context,” reported a U.S. National Park Service media release posted on February 17, 2023. 

We thank the many dedicated volunteers of the Bethlehem World Heritage Commission whose tenacity and tireless work through two decades has advanced the UNESCO nomination to this final stage.  And we are among the countless believers praying for victory when the UNESCO World Heritage Committee delivers their decision in the summer of 2024.   With faith and fortitude like this, how can we lose?

Image courtesy of historicbethlehem.org