The fortified churches of the Transylvanian Saxons were bulwarks that were built between the 13th and 16th centuries during the Mongol and Tatar invasions. The complex with its thick walls offered shelter for the population. Some were expanded into fortified castles and had towers, rondels and bastions. Significant examples can be found in Sibiu (Hermannstadt), Biertan (Birthälm), Câlnic (Kelling) and Viscri (Deutsch-Weißkirch).
Villages and Fortified Churches in Transylvania: Facts
|Official title:||Villages and fortified churches in Transylvania (Transylvania)|
|Cultural monument:||Villages like Biertan (Birthälm), Câlnic, Prejmer, Viscri, Dârjiu, Saschiz, Valea Vilor with fortified churches and fortifications|
|Country:||Romania, Transylvania; See estatelearning|
|Location:||Biertan, northeast of Sibiu (Hermannstadt); Câlnic, west of Sibiu; Prejmer, northeast of Brasov|
|Appointment:||1993, expanded in 1999|
|Meaning:||outstanding examples of Saxon settlements with fortified churches|
Villages and Fortified Churches in Transylvania: History
|1260||Construction of the weir system in Câlnic (Kelling)|
|1283||Founding of Biertan|
|1291||provisional ban on the fortification of churches due to an edict of King Andrew III.|
|1420||Invasion of the Turks in Transylvania|
|1438||Attempt of the Turkish subjugation of Transylvania; Formation of an independent principality under Ottoman suzerainty|
|1468-1523||Construction of the weir system in Biertan|
|1520-22||Construction of the late Gothic hall church in Biertan|
|1572-1867||Biertan as the seat of an Evangelical Lutheran bishop|
|1704||Destruction of 4 of the 7 bastions of the fortified church in Biertan|
The inverted door lock
In the middle of the village of the former Protestant bishopric of Biertan is the market square with the town hall and school, and behind it a mountain cone rises. On it rises between the receding slopes, vineyards, fields and pastures that are crowned by a church. This well-fortified church is enclosed by three circular walls that nestle closer and closer together. As it were, step by step, the walls and towers rise up alongside a long, wooden and covered staircase. Through its hatches and gaps, the gaze falls from time to time into the corner of the garden, onto the bushes and flowerbeds. To get here, a visitor has to pass under six towers and many portcullis.
Even the highest courtyard is still protected by two towers. Overall, the complex served the defense, had battlements and loopholes. To this day, one of the two uppermost towers does not contain any graves, but the stone grave slabs of deceased bishops and the bell chamber on another floor. The other is the former council chamber, the school, and a room that served as temporary custody for married couples who had fallen out. In addition, these towers were used as storage facilities.
Beautiful stone carvings on portals and lintels as well as the tracery of the Gothic window arches prove to be the only decorative effort. But they created masterpieces of blacksmithing, such as the unique door lock to the sacristy, which with a single reverse turn of the key can snap the bolt dozen of times on all four sides of the door frame: an intricate work that is reminiscent of the construction of a clockwork. The choir stalls of the church were decorated with rich, well-preserved geometric inlay work by two of Veit’s sons. And last but not least, the winged altar must be mentioned as one of the most important works of fine art in Transylvania. It is the work of an unknown master, but who must have seen a piece of the world – at least the Viennese Schotten Altar, as can be seen from individual motivic suggestions. Biblical scenes and the passion of Christ are depicted. The canon of altarpiece painting is followed with a »weekday page« and a »Sunday page«, on which the Passion story on the one hand and the life of Mary on the other can be seen. The representations from the time before the Reformation are very well preserved, as the depicted saints were withdrawn from the view of the followers of the new faith and thus also from the damaging light by closing the altar. This altar has only now been restored down to the gilding of the surrounding, filigree carved tendrils and tracery. The tall Gothic tracery with geometric ornamentation carved in stone in the choir and longitudinal walls does not contain any colored glass windows.
The lovely area, shaped by viticulture, in which the fortified church of Biertan towers as a Christian stronghold, is a landscape that emerged from historical fates. The interior of Transylvania has been settled by German farmers and craftsmen since the 12th century. The license of the Hungarian King Andrew II allowed them to build and live on what has since become what has been known as the “royal soil”, with the task of defending the crown against hostile incursions by the multitudes from the east. This required corresponding systems that, over time, took on the structural form of castles. In an emergency, all residents of the place including cattle and supplies could find shelter in such a defensive facility of God. The attention of all visitors should remain focused on the preservation of this unique structure.