Romania - Mountains, Monasteries and Medieval Cities
Biertan church is one of the best preserved fortified churches and still holds occasional services
fortified church was built between 1486-1524 on the site of an earlier
church. It is late Gothic style with Renaissance touches. It was the
last of the fortified churches to be built in Transylvania and is one of
the few that still holds services.
It had three defensive walls with towers and gateways.
Each of the towers had a different function. One was used by the villagers to store bacon in case of siege. Another was used for parish meetings.
When it was built, the church was Roman Catholic becoming a Lutheran Church after the Reformation. The Roman Catholics were allowed to keep a small chapel in one of the towers for worship. This still has the remains of frescoes on the walls.
Near this is the small “matrimonial prison" where couples wanting to divorce were confined for two weeks to be sure they did wish to end their marriage. They had to share a single bed, plate and spoon. During the three centuries that bishops resided at Biertan, just one couple ended up divorcing.
Foot access to the church is up a covered wooden staircase dating from 1795. Alternatively there is a zig zag path through the courtyard between the the walls.
The church is entered by a simple doorway in the north wall with a carved wooden door.
Inside it is a typical German Gothic ‘Hall Church’ with a very high ceiling and long thin windows. Its size reflects the size of the Saxon population. There are three naves of equal height separated by tall hexagonal columns. AThese lead up to an elaborately vaulted ceiling. At the back of the church is the organ. The pews with back were used my the men. The women sat on the benches in front who could drape their dresses over them.
Hanging from the wooden galleries along the side walls are examples of Anatolian rugs brought back by wealthy merchants trading with the Ottoman Empire around 1700 and who gave them to the church. These were originally used as Muslim prayer mats. The carved stone pulpit dates from 1523 and has carvings of figures from the New testament. It has a beautifully carved and painted C19th wooden tester above it.
The choir stalls are early C16th and have marquetry backs.
The wooden triptych above the altar has 28 painted panels and is a survival of the Roman Catholic church. At the centre is Christ hanging on the cross with mary Magdalene embracing the bottom of the cross with the Virgin Mary and St john. The panels how the visions of Ezekiel and Augustus.
The sacristy is off the chancel and was used to store church valuables. It has a very impressive locking system which was displayed at the paris World Fair in 1889. Also in the sacristy is a blue and white tiled stove which was typical of the area.
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