Monthly Archives: December 2019

Northampton County Carver identified

IMG_4040Jacob Motz or Moots was a German-speaking Lutheran stonecarver active between the late 1760s and the early 1780s. His surviving work is present in 37 examples in 11 churchyards in what are now Northampton County and Lehigh County in Pennsylvania, and Warren County in New Jersey. (At least two of his stones were destroyed by bulldozers on the orders of a congregational council in 1974.) Almost half of the stones are in the cemeteries of Zion Stone Church in Kreidersville and the former Christ Union in Lower Saucon, Hellertown.

Motz’s work was identified as belonging to one individual as early as 1954 by Preston Barba; he was identified by name in December of 2019 by Richard Mammana using probate settlement documentation in the Northampton County Court Archives. Before 2019, Motz was known only as the “Northampton County Carver.” The stones, some of which are in advanced states of deterioration and lichen encrustation, have the following characteristics in common:

1. The text of the epitaph is in German with idiosyncratic spelling.
2. The material is local sandstone.
3. The stone was carved between 1768 and 1782.
4. A characteristic vase with flowers features on the reverse.
5. The text on obverse has majuscule and minuscule lettering mixed within words.
6. Stylized sunbursts in corners.
7. There are occasional dates on the obverse that correspond to the date of erection or completion, not the decedent’s date of death.




Filed under Northampton County Carver, Pennsylvania German

O#1: O admirabile commercium

O admirabile commercium creator generis humani animatum corpus sumens de virgine nasci dignatus est et procedens homo sine semine largitus est nobis suam deitatem.

O wonderful exchange: the creator of humankind took on a living body, merited to be born of a virgin, and, being born as a man without seed, gave us his deity.


One of the O Antiphons is suited equally to the Annunciation (the March 25 commemoration of the conception of Jesus Christ inside of his mother Mary) as to singing during the time just after Christmas. It is the first O Antiphon alphabetically in its Latin text, and so reading it at it the beginning of Advent makes a logical sense.

We have begun a season of exchanges, a kind of directional action that is common enough in our normal lives. Foreign exchange of money for other money when we travel for work or go on vacation to another country. The gift exchanges of social obligation, workplace fellowship, friendly sincerity. Exchanges of one place for another when we travel to visit family during the longue durée of the extended holiday period. And all of us reading this live in the permanent shadow of the Columbian Exchange that brought horses and bees and measles to Mexico in return for coffee, gold, slaves, chocolate, potatoes, and slaves to Europe.

O admirabile commercium is a capsule of three words that contain some of the potent truths about the incarnation as an exchange of another kind. The incarnation is the teaching that in the person of Jesus Christ the fulness of the eternal world-creating God became joined permanently, unbreakably, inexplicably, with the fulness of humanity: God exchanging incorporeality for a specific body that was born like every other human baby from a particular woman in a given place. The exchange went reciprocally but not transactionally in the other direction, too: largitus est nobis suam deitatem: “God gave us his deity.”

The Wonderful Exchange confers on every human person a permanent dignity that nothing can take away—age, actions, station, illness, immigration status, “gloomy doubts and faithless fear”—none can change God’s chosen identity with us and all whom we meet by choice or chance.

If this principle confers on each of us duties of respect and reverence toward those around us—the same respect and reverence that we would give to God—it does so along the lines Frank Weston of Zanzibar explained in a famous 1923 sermon: “if God leapt a gulf for you, I suppose that you can leap gulfs for God.”

Advent emerges then as a season of jumps: from God to us, from us to God, from me to you, and from each of us in sincerity toward anyone who differs from us.

If you’d like to listen to O admirabile commercium in music that has nourished souls before us for half a thousand years, Handl, Josquin Desprez, William Byrd, and Hans Leo Hassler are all free and brief.

For background on this Advent reflection, see Slouching toward Bethlehem in 2019.
A Pennsylvanian in Connecticut (and often other places), Richard Mammana is a father, author, reviewer, archivist, web developer and ecumenist. He is the founder of

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