A sect of visionary fanatics which flourished in the eighteenth century at Ronsdorf in the Duchy of Berg, now part of the Prussian province of the Rhine
Zionites, a sect of visionary fanatics which flourished in the eighteenth century at Ronsdorf in the Duchy of Berg, now part of the Prussian province of the Rhine. The sect sprang from a Philadelphian society founded at Elberfeld in 1726 by Elias Eller and the pastor Daniel Schleiermacher. Eller was the foreman of a factory owned by a rich widow. He read eagerly the writings of ancient and modern visionaries, and then formed an apocalyptic, millenarian system of his own. He made such an impression on the widow, twenty years his senior, that she married him. Thus he obtained the means and influence to draw adherents around himself. The pastor Schleiermacher, grandfather of the celebrated theologian, was also duped by Eller. The prophetess of the society was the daughter of a baker, Anna van Buchel, who had dreams and visions and saw apparitions. After the death of his wife, Eller married her. She called herself mother of Zion, her husband father of Zion, and prophesied that she would bear the savior of the world. The new order of things was to begin in 1730. Her first child was a daughter, but Eller was able to console the society with Scriptural texts. A son born in 1733 died two years later. Eller made himself the central point of theology. Christian morality was replaced by the craving for coarse and sensual pleasures. In 1737 the sect left Elberfeld and founded Ronsdorf which soon prospered, and, through Eller's influence, was raised by the State in 1745 to the rank of a city. Eller took the most important offices for himself, lived with his wife in great pomp, and governed tyrannically. When Eller's wife died suddenly in 1744 doubts arose in the mind of Schleiermacher, who was pastor at Ronsdorf. He confessed his mistake and sought to open the eyes of the deceiving leader, but Eller managed to maintain himself until death. The sect was carried on by the pastors who took Schleiermacher's place, by Eller's stepson Bolckhaus, and continued to exist until 1768. The new pastor chosen in this year and his successors brought back the inhabitants of Ronsdorf to Protestantism. The after effects of the movement could be traced into the nineteenth century.