in the British Provence


Kilwarlin Moravian Church




The Moravian Church originated in Bohemia and Moravia ? now Czechoslovakia -- from among the followers of the Czech reformer and martyr John Hus. In 1415 Hus was condemned to death as a heretic by the Council of Constance because he had dared to question the power of the Papacy. He was burned at the stake on July 6th, 1415 and his ashes were strewn on the waters of the River Rhine. A small group of his followers settled in a remote valley in Bohemia and there, in the little village of Kunwald, they tried to mould their lives on Christ's teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. They called themselves "The Brethren of the Law of Christ" and to begin with they had no idea of founding a separate Church. But some years later, in 1457, after attempts to reform the Roman Catholic Church from within had failed, they decided to set up their own Church. They gave it the Latin name "Unitas Fratrum" which in English. is "Unity of Brethren". A long and difficult period of opposition and persecution followed but in spite of this the newly formed Church began to prosper and to increase in numbers and in influence. Its success was largely due to the emphasis it placed on the position of the laity in the Church and their active participation in its worship and government. To encourage this the Unitas Fratrum produced the first Protestant Hymn Book in Prague in 1501, to be followed in 1579 by the printing and publication of the Kralitz Bible, a translation of the Bible into the Czech language from the original Hebrew and Greek. The Unitas Fratrum also laid great emphasis on Christian education and founded many schools and colleges.

But in the early part of the 17th Century in the religious wars which decimated central Europe, the ancient Unitas Fratrum was almost wiped out. Its services were forbidden, its Churches destroyed and its members persecuted and killed. In the face of this terrible attack only a small group of its members survived. They were led by one of its Bishops. John Amos

Comenius, the famous educationalist, out of Bohemia and Moravia into Poland and Silesia. From there, together with other refugees from Bohemia and Moravia, they found refuge on the estate of a German nobleman, Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf. Here, in 1727, the ancient Unitas Fratrum was re-born and one of the first results of that spiritual rebirth was a great outpouring of overseas Missionary activity in which Moravian Missionaries carried the Christian Gospel to places as far afield as the West Indies, Greenland, South Africa. South America, Labrador and North America. It was in connection with the Moravian Mission to the Red Indians of North America that the Moravians first came to. Britain.


The arrival of the first members of the Moravian Church in Britain coincided with the beginnings of the great evangelical revival which was to lead to the formation of the Methodist Church. John and Charles Wesley, after revival experiences at Oxford, felt led to go to North America on a mission to the North American Indians in the newly established British

Colony of Georgia. They travelled to Georgia on the sailing ship `Simmonds' on board which were some Moravian Missionaries also bound for North America. This meeting had momentous results both for Moravians and Methodists. The original contact made on board the `Simmonds' was followed, on Wesley's return from America, by his friendship with Peter Boehler the Moravian Bishop who was instrumental in leading John Wesley to complete conversion. Moravians and Methodists now began to work together in London, in Yorkshire and in the West of England. Among those who assisted John Wesley in his work in the Bristol area was a young man named John Cennick. For a time he taught in a Methodist school in Kingswood for the children of the miners, but when the Moravians and the Methodists later separated because of doctrinal and organisational differences, Cennick withdrew to 1Tytherton in Wiltshire and became a Minister in the Moravian Church.


About 1745, Cennick was invited to come to Ireland and begin an evangelical campaign there. At first the Moravian Church refused to release him for this work but later they agreed to do so. He arrived in Dublin in 1746 and thousands of people gathered to hear him preach, and two years later he founded there the first Moravian Congregation in Ireland. Among those who heard him preach in Dublin were two businessmen from Ballymena in Northern Ireland. They invited him to come there and he accepted their invitation. But he was so fiercely opposed that he nearly lost his life, and he had to give up and return to Dublin. But two years later he was back again and within the next few years he had founded religious Societies in Counties

Antrim, Down, Derry, Armagh, Tyrone, Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal. From among these Societies Moravian Congregations were formed and Moravian Churches built at Ballinderry, Kilwarlin, Gracefield and Gracehill. The Kilwarlin Congregation was founded and the first Church was built by Cennick in 1755. Four years later a small piece of land was purchased near the Church to serve as a Burial Ground. The original Congregation numbered about 80 members and for a time it had its own resident Minister. But by 1813 a decline in the work had set in. The resident Minister was removed and the Kilwarlin work was put under the charge of the Moravian Minister at Ballinderry. This removal of the resident Minister led to still further decline and by 1834 the original Church and Manse built by Cennick were in ruins and the Congregation membership had dwindled to just six elderly people. It looked as if it would only be a matter of time until the Moravian work at Kilwarlin was extinguished.



That the Moravian work at Kilwarlin did not perish but was given a new and vigorous lease of life was due almost entirely to a "foreigner" ? a Greek Chieftain named Basil Patras Zula. The famous English poet, Lord Byron, who died in Greece in 1824 while helping the Greeks in their war of independence against the Turks, once wrote these lines:-

" Tis strange?but true; for truth is always strange:
Stranger than fiction."

Byron's words are amply confirmed by the `strange?but true' story of how Zula, a Greek soldier in that independence struggle against the Turks became the Minister of the Kilwarlin Moravian Congregation and by his self-sacrificing labours saved it from extinction. He was born in Greece in the year 1796 the son of a Greek Chieftain who had already fought and suffered in the Turkish war. His father died when he was only five years of age, and when he reached the age of eleven the leaders of his clan insisted that he take over the Chieftainship or abdicate. So, Basil found himself transferred from the Schoolroom to the Battlefield and the Turkish general, Ali Pasha, on hearing of his appointment put a price on his head. On more than one occasion he and his widowed mother only just escaped with their lives from Turkish ambushes. For a period he had to take refuge in Italy but in 1822 he returned to Greece in time to take part in the terrible fifteen month Turkish siege of the Greek city of Missolonghi. Following the capture of Missolonghi and its destruction by the Turks dreadful atrocities were carried out by both Turks and Greeks and sickened by this slaughter Zula withdrew from the struggle and went to Smyrna. Here he met an English nobleman named Sir William Eden and later became his travelling companion.

Early in 1828 Sir William Eden returned to England and from there took Zula with him on a visit to Ireland. They landed in Dublin and stayed at the Bilton Hotel in Sackville Street. Zula was later to write in his Diary:--

"I entered the City of Dublin a self-made exile, without country, religion or friends; but being led by an Unseen Hand, l was there to find them all."

In fact, he "found them all" in the person of a Dublin Moravian School - mistress named Ann Linfoot whom he met in the Bilton Hotel c n the morning after his arrival there. The meeting came about as follows. Mr. Bilton, the Proprietor of the Hotel, was a very religious man who began each day with family prayers to which he invited his Hotel guests. Sir William Eden and his entourage attended these devotions on their first morning in the Hotel. But it so happened that on this particular day, Mr. Bilton, being away from home on business, had invited Ann Linfoot to deputise for him. She was a member of the Bishop Street Moravian Church founded by John Cennick, and after the morning prayers were over she was introduced to Zula. To his great delight, he discovered that she knew Greek and could converse with him in his native tongue. She invited him to attend the Services in Bishop Street and a close friendship grew up between them. Zula became intensely interested in the history and work of the Moravian Church and eventually he offered himself for training for its Ordained Ministry. He was accepted and was sent for a period of instruction in the Moravian Settlement in Gracehill. When this was completed, he returned to Dublin and on Easter Day, 1829, he and Ann Linfoot were married in the Bishop Street Moravian Church. Zula afterwards wrote in his Diary of his Bride:

"She was the instrument whom the Lord employed to draw me to himself. I owed her a deep debt of gratitude and having nothing else to offer her, I offered myself and was accepted."

In 1834, following further training for the Ministry, Zula and his wife were `called' to serve the dying Moravian Congregation in Kilwarlin.


The scene which greeted Zula and his wife on their arrival in Kilwarlin was daunting, to say the least ? the Church and Manse falling into ruins, the grounds and gardens a tangled wilderness and a `congregation' consisting of six elderly people. But they were not daunted. Within a few days they were settled in Kilwarlin and some sentences from Zula's Diary serve to show the spirit in which their work was begun and carried on:?

"Who am I O my God," wrote Zula, "or what is my father's house that thou shouldst honour me to help to build up the old waste places. From a far country have I journeyed, and found rest here; and at thy altar do I anew dedicate body, soul and spirit to be devoted to thy glorious service."

His first sermon was preached in the old Church on September 14th, 1834 on the text from I Timothy 1 : 15, "Here are words you may trust, words that merit full acceptance: `Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners: and among them I stand first.' " But the Church building was in such a ruinous state that to continue to hold services there was downright dangerous and a few weeks later Zula began the work of demolishing it to make way for a new building. The new Church was completed and opened for worship in March, 1835 and on that occasion, twenty-six new members were added to the Congregation. Soon after the opening of the new Church, Zula re-built the Manse and a small day-school which he built at the entrance to the Church grounds was opened for use. During all this building work, his wonderful pastoral care and preaching ability were fully maintained and were reflected in the steady increase in membership of the Congregation. As a result, the Moravian authorities agreed that the time had come for Zula to be advanced from the position of `Probationer' working under the guidance of the Ballinderry Minister to become an Ordained Minister in full charge of Kilwarlin. In January, 1837, his Ordination was carried out by the Right Reverend Hans Peter Hallbeck, a Moravian Bishop who was at that time on a visit to Ireland from his Moravian Missionary work in South Africa among the Hottentot people there. It was shortly after his Ordination that the Congregation presented him with a handsome grandfather clock, "as a testimony of our esteem and affectionate regard." The clock is preserved in the vestry of the present Church.


It must have been a great deprivation to Zula that he was never able to revisit his native Greece and it was probably this sense of loss which led him to construct in the Church grounds at Kilwarlin a very strange reminder of his homeland. Using his private resources, he employed local labour to lay out the Church grounds on the plan of the famous Greek battle of Thermopylae.


In this battle King Leonidas of Sparta with a handful of Spartan soldiers held up the full might of the Persian army as it tried to break through the narrow pass of Thermopylae to attack the city of Athens. Within a circular "hollow" formed by the Church driveway, this strange battlefield in a garden was constructed. Six stone steps leading down into the hollow represent the eastern entrance to Thermopylae. Opposite them, near the entrance gates, is a grassy hillock the Mount Acta of the original battlefield. To the right of the Church driveway as seen from the Manse entrance is a small ornamental lake representing the Aegean Sea and from this lake an underground stream, representing the hot springs which gave Thermopylae its name, runs through the hollow. On the left of the hollow is a grassy slope representing the foothills of the Callidromon range of mountains through which the pass of Thermopylae ran and beyond it a loftier mound which represents Mount Callidromos. Between the lower and loftier mounds is a narrow defile which represents the secret pass revealed to the Persians by a Greek traitor and which enabled the Persians to attack Leonidas and his men from the rear and annihilate them. In the middle of the hollow is a small ornamental pond around which were originally twenty-four flower beds each in the shape of a letter of the Greek alphabet. Only two now remain Alpha and Omega ?marking the beginning and ending of the original circle of twenty-four.


Zula died soon after he constructed this reminder of his native Greece. But even in exile in Ireland he could not wipe from his memory what he and his people had suffered at the hands of the Turks and he continued to have an intense hatred and an irrational fear of them. So when re-building the Kilwarlin Manse, lie provided it with a number of escape mechanisms - two doors in all the downstairs rooms, two separate staircases and outside at the back a small room built on "stilts" with a trap-door leading to a hiding place under the floor. Fortunately, he was never to need any of these escape routes, for he died a natural death in Dublin on the 4th October, 1844. His body was brought back to Kilwarlin and interred in the little Burial Ground at the rear of the Church which he had erected. After his death his widow, Ann, lived on in the Manse and using money from his estate built an additional wing to the Manse in which she conducted a "Boarding School for Select Young Ladies." She died in 1858 and is buried alongside her husband.

As we contemplate the chequered history of the Kilwarlin Moravian Congregation and in particular this "strange but true" story of how a Greek Chieftain became its revered and beloved Minister and saved it from extinction, we may wonder how it was possible for him, a foreigner and a stranger, to win the hearts and affections of these simple folk. Without doubt the answer is to be found in the way in which by his zeal, devotion and love the prayer which he recorded in his Diary on taking up his work in Kilwarlin ten years previously was so richly fulfilled.

"Enable me O Lord, to sink myself in the care of those aground me; to sympathise. to pity, to have a fellow-feeling for their wants, joys and sorrows and to be truly concerned for the spiritual welfare of all. "

And if we are looking for some suitable memorial of his life and work perhaps we could not do better than quote the inscription on the tomb of Sir Christopher Wren in St. Paul's Cathedral in London:-

"Si momumentum requiris, circumspice."

"If you ask where is his monument - Look around you.''