» » Biertan - the Largest Peasant Fortress in Transylvania
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21-11-2014, 02:01

Biertan - the Largest Peasant Fortress in Transylvania

Category: History / Transylvania / Biertan

Biertan - the Largest Peasant Fortress in TransylvaniaAccording to some historians, the village of Biertan was attested in 1224, in a diploma issued by King Andrew of Hungary. Biertan was then a part of the Two Seats Saxon administrative unit. At that time, Biertan was competing with Medias and Moşna to claim the residence title for these seats. The Saxon inhabitants of Biertan were settlers from the Franconia area of Germany. Biertan had lined up houses built around a central square, with the church-fortress located in the middle. Biertan had suffered during the great Mongol Invasion of 1241. This prompted its inhabitants to become involved in the Christians’ efforts of constructing a series of stone fortresses to stave off Mongol invasions.

In Biertan, the locals raised three rows of walls, reinforced with 6 towers and 3 bastions, which turned the church-fortress into one of the strongest fortifications in southern Transylvania. The settlement prospered, and as a sign of their wealth, the Biertan Saxons decided to rebuild the church in the centre, and dedicate it to Saint Mary. The construction was carried out between 1486 and 1524, following a late Gothic style. The three naves church in Biertan is the last of its kind built in Transylvania. The Saxons had hoped that they would acquire their own ecclesiastical hierarchy, given the almost permanent state of conflict between the Saxon clergy and the Roman Catholic Bishop of Alba Iulia. The failure to receive a proper bishop from the Catholic Church only encouraged the Saxons to adopt the religious reform. Biertan took full advantage of this phenomenon. Biertan - the Largest Peasant Fortress in TransylvaniaAccording to some historians, the village of Biertan was attested in 1224, in a diploma issued by King Andrew of Hungary. Biertan was then a part of the Two Seats Saxon administrative unit. At that time, Biertan was competing with Medias and Moşna to claim the residence title for these seats. The Saxon inhabitants of Biertan were settlers from the Franconia area of Germany. Biertan had lined up houses built around a central square, with the church-fortress located in the middle. Biertan had suffered during the great Mongol Invasion of 1241. This prompted its inhabitants to become involved in the Christians’ efforts of constructing a series of stone fortresses to stave off Mongol invasions.

In Biertan, the locals raised three rows of walls, reinforced with 6 towers and 3 bastions, which turned the church-fortress into one of the strongest fortifications in southern Transylvania. The settlement prospered, and as a sign of their wealth, the Biertan Saxons decided to rebuild the church in the centre, and dedicate it to Saint Mary. The construction was carried out between 1486 and 1524, following a late Gothic style. The three naves church in Biertan is the last of its kind built in Transylvania. The Saxons had hoped that they would acquire their own ecclesiastical hierarchy, given the almost permanent state of conflict between the Saxon clergy and the Roman Catholic Bishop of Alba Iulia. The failure to receive a proper bishop from the Catholic Church only encouraged the Saxons to adopt the religious reform. Biertan took full advantage of this phenomenon.

From 1572 until 1867, the village became the residence of the Saxon Lutheran bishop, once Lucas Unglerus was elected bishop. Shortly after, the church adopted the Protestant faith and the few Catholic followers arranged their own chapel in a defence tower. Biertan remained the religious centre of the Saxons all throughout the time when Transylvania had kept its autonomy, whether under Ottoman suzerainty or inside the Habsburg Empire. However, in 1867, with the transformation of the Habsburg Empire into Austro-Hungary, the seat of the Saxon bishopric was moved to Sibiu and Biertan lost its status. The demise of Biertan actually started in 1704, when the fortified church of the Saxon-Lutherans, loyal to the House of Austria, was conquered and sacked by Hungarian Calvinists, followers of the last independent prince of Transylvania, Francis II Rákóczi, in the civil war between 1701 and 1711.

An Exceptional Church
The Church of Biertan hides art treasures, including the altar with the 28 panels which were painted during the Catholic period. The pulpit, one of the most beautiful in Central Europe, was carved in 1500 by the master Ulrich in Brasov. The sacristy door, with a system of 19 locks, was awarded at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1900, when participants admired the ingenuity of the medieval Saxon craftsmen.
Box:
Biertan is located in Sibiu, 339 kilometres from Bucharest. Compared to Cluj-Napoca, Biertan is located at a distance of 147 kilometres.
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