Sharing the Common Wealth showcases objects, artifacts, documents, structures and buildings from the collections of PHMC.

Miniature Lord’s Prayer at Landis Valley Village & Farm Museum. Landis Valley Village & Farm Museum

Why would a calligrapher print the words to the Lord’s Prayer on a 1-inch-square piece of paper in letters so small that one would need a magnifying glass to read it? Even more puzzling: Why would someone fold such a small document to a quarter of its actual size? The answers may have more to do with the spiritual beliefs of some German-speaking Pennsylvanians in the 18th century rather than any appreciation of the artistry and skill it took to create such a piece.

The inscription of the prayer, written in German, begins at the top of the paper, spirals around, and continues inward to its end. The date of the inscription’s creation, 1769, appears at the top of the paper. The name of its owner, Catherina Stauffer, is printed under the spiral. Unfortunately, no other information has been found to identify the owner; however, Stauffer was a common surname among Pennsylvania’s German-speaking immigrants from Europe, especially Swiss Mennonites.

The miniature inscription eventually found its way into the papers of the Konigmacher family of Ephrata, Lancaster County, and was discovered there in the 20th century by folklife scholar Don Yoder, who recognized its value as a rare spiritual artifact from Pennsylvania, rooted in medieval European traditions.

Patrick J. Donmoyer, director of the Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center at Kutztown University, considers the inscription to be a New World variant of a religious practice from the Middle Ages in Europe for warding off evil. The terms Brevia (Latin) and Briefe (German), meaning “letters” or “inscriptions,” are used to identify similar papers containing written prayers that were placed against the skin in some manner to protect the wearer from both physical and spiritual harm. Donmoyer believes the Stauffer piece to be “evidence of the continuation of these practices in Pennsylvania” and that someone apparently folded the paper and possibly tucked it in an amulet to protect Catherina Stauffer. The inscription of the prayer, not meant to be read by the naked eye or even seen, was nevertheless perceived to have spiritual power by its physical existence and its proximity to the owner.

The miniature Lord’s Prayer was acquired by Landis Valley Village & Farm Museum in Lancaster and was recently restored by Maria Pukownik Fine Art & Paper Conservation of Orrtanna, Adams County. It is currently on display in Landis Valley’s visitor center as part of the exhibition Signed, Stamped or Engraved: A Treasury of Artifacts Bearing Names, which features and interprets objects from the museum’s collection that are personalized.


Kyle R. Weaver is the editor of Pennsylvania Heritage.