New acquisition: “Die Mutter Jesus” fraktur

Written by Forrest Moyer on June 6, 2019

Mennonites, like other Protestants, do not typically venerate special or powerful “saints” canonized by the Roman church, but occasionally, Mennonites and other Pennsylvania Germans would appeal to saints in medieval prayers associated with folk healing. Saint Mary, the mother of Jesus, was especially present in these prayers.

In 1830, a local Mennonite created a beautiful piece of fraktur titled “Die Mutter Jesus [The Mother of Jesus].” The Mennonite Heritage Center has exhibited this piece in the past, and happily we were able to purchase it for the permanent collection in October 2018. It is now on display in the Fraktur Gallery.

This purchase was made possible by the generosity of donors to our “Fraktur Acquisition Fund”. We thank them, and encourage donations to replenish the fund.

Mennonite Heritage Center purchase (2018.71.1)

This fraktur was created by Isaac Z. Hunsicker (1803-1870), a parochial Mennonite schoolmaster in Montgomery County. It may have been made for display in his classroom, but we do not know who owned and preserved the piece for nearly 150 years until it was purchased by a collector at a Skippack farm auction several decades ago.

The image was apparently copied from this plate in an 1825 Philadelphia edition of the Bible.

This hand-colored plate is in the Bible of David & Catherine Hunsicker Allebach. Mennonite Heritage Center Collection; gift of Philip R. Detwiler (2014.14.1). David Allebach served as deacon in the Towamencin Mennonite congregation.

Another fraktur drawing copied from the same Bible portrait of Mary, is in the Free Library of Philadelphia collection, by an unknown artist. Click here to view it.

Hunsicker’s “Mutter Jesus” fraktur is unique and important. It is signed and dated, and suggests some interest in Mary, the mother of Jesus, among 19th century Mennonites. In contrast to the title and portrait itself, which appear focused on Mary, the verse below directs readers — likely Hunsicker’s students — to the person of Jesus:
Zu mir, zu mir (ruft Jesus noch) Die Kindlein Lasset kommen;
Hab ich, Aus lieb zu ihnen, doch Die Kindheit Angenommen;
Ja wie ein arm, elendig kind, Gebüsset und beweint die Sünd
Der Kinder, Die mich hören.
Is. Z. Hunsicker. 1830.

Artist Roma Ruth recreated Hunsicker’s piece in 2003, with an English translation of the verse:
To me! to me (doth Jesus call), let children come a-near to me,
For I have, out of love to all, child’s nature taken to me.
Yes, as a child ailing and poor, repent and weep your sins so sore–
The children who will hear me.

Roma was photographed with the original and her copy together at the Heritage Center in 2003.