Romanian (Well) Fortified Churches on Sunday
When we read about fortified churches in Romania, I knew some were destined to be a “Church on Sunday.” So on our last day in Transylvania we decided to visit two of the uniquely military churches.
The first city we visited, Biertan, was a Transylvania Saxon stronghold founded in the 13th century. Saxons were essentially Germans who settled in/colonized the area and tried to defend it from Ottoman invasion. To protect the land and its people, larger towns built defensive walls around their cities and smaller villages built fortified churches to help people withstand military sieges.
The drive from Sigisoara to Biertan revealed small villages and dirt roads. I was still fresh off the path of Dracula and intrigued by the crosses designed into most houses. Pure aesthetic, or defense against the dark arts? You decide.
We rolled into the village of Biertan, which is bustling enough to have a large pension and an information kiosk. Yet everything was quiet–too quiet.
We met an English speaker who informed us that we were there on one of the few days that the church was closed. CLOSED. Apparently it was a holy day-but what kind of church is closed on a holy day? We walked around the walls and tried the front door in vain, but we were denied entry. I thought about trying to scale the wall for a photo, but 500 years after the church was built, I still couldn’t get in. I got a photo of the wall, but it wasn’t exactly what we drove there for.
We decided that we would try our luck at another fortified church in the town of Viscri, a village of about 400 people. The drive was beautiful-lots of rolling green hills and sheep herders. We got the “you ain’t from around here, ain’t you vibe,” but people seemed more curious than anything else. Except for this lady. Talk about the evil eye. No wonder people have crosses on their homes.
We found Viscri’s church pretty easily and parked across from a Dacia (the Yugo of Romania) guarded by turkeys. If there was ever a symbol of rural Romania, this is probably it.
We then walked up a narrow stone path to reach the church. I was wondering if we’d be able to get past the front gate when we were rewarded with this welcoming sight.
However, when we reached the church’s front door, we saw a sign saying that a service was being conducted. It asked visitors to stay outside until the conclusion of the service. FOILED AGAIN. At least we could walk behind the thick walls of the church.
The origins of the church date from 1100 AD, but it wasn’t fortified until 1525, after the previous church was razed by invading Tartars. Despite its historic (read: aging) status, people are encouraged to climb up the wall fortifications and peer out of the lookouts built into the surrounding wall.
We waited for the service to end, but it was clear that the Saxons meant business. There was a lot of hymning and hawing, if you know what I mean. We realized that the fortified churches were, well, barring us from entry. While it didn’t make for a great church on Sunday, hats off to the Saxons, who built churches to withstand the force of Ottoman invaders–and RHOB. Until next time, that is…