Biertan is one of the most important Saxon villages with fortified churches in Transylvania, having been on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1993. It was the see of the Lutheran Evangelical Bishop in Transylvania between 1572 and 1867.
Once a year the streets around the Biertan fortified Church fill up with Transylvanian Saxons coming from near and far, The mount is buzzing with activity the church pews are filled to the last seat: the Saxons usually taking reunion place on the third Saturday of September is the cultural highlight for the ones behind as they are commonly called.
The remaining Germans in Transilvania live with this subtle humour.
We can’t pass up the reminiscence of bygone days, Saxon tradition revived and cultivated from 1990 onwards. The respective brass bands from Bistrita Brasov and Stearsu (Har bach valley) and others strike up in the market square dance groups in local traditional costumes per form the Nungsachsisch Dance Young-Saxon Dance) and the Neppendorf Landler and senior Saxons chat away in their own old Moselle Franconian dialect.
Everyday village life is quite unhurried nowadays. Bertan used to be a sizeable market point in the wine producing area of Transilvania, but those times are past. Towards the end of the middle ages in 1510 Biertan’s population was over twice the size than what it is today.
A Royal Judge used to hold office there and the Saturday market has an unbroken tradition from its be ginning in 1418 Only by a slight chance the village missed being established as a town.
However the competition didn’t rest Mosna and Medias were vying for the town status in order to gain control of the area of the so-called “Two Seats”).
Striving for fame and power, the people of Bertan expanded their 14th-century basilica into an impressive hall church, thus constructing one of the most beautiful existing fortified churches.
Located on a hill about 8 km from the main Medias-Sighisoara route on the road from Saros pe Tarnave it is visible from far away.
Mostly disused vinyards stretch along the southern side of the hills for miles in times past there was business in this, but nowadays winegrowing has dwindled to nothing, as the leaving Saxons drained most of the know-how. There is enough though, for a sampling in Biertan wine cellars.
The last curve before entering the village offers us a postcard-worthy view of the fortress. It is surround ed by three circular walls and eight towers The main street leads up to the market square, amidst stately houses witnessing the significance of this location in times past. Local citizens sell all sorts of home made and other products in three little wooden cabins next to the fortress walls our curious looks prompt the saleswomen to advertise their jam, honey and liquor.
The former bastion and the fort keeper apartment form the forts entrance, the cashier’s doubles as a book store 73 steps on the northern part of the hill lead to the forts inner yard.
The brass band fades away however the plateau is abuzz with people coming and leaving. The oldest circular wall is lined with four towers and we face three of them. To our left is the wooden bell tower.
To our right we look onto then “Stundenturm”, the Hour Tower obviously owing its name to the clock above the defense quarters Passing right through the Stundentumn a cobbled pathway leads us to the so called “Speckturm” (Bacon Tower).
Third in the band of towers is the Mausoleum Tower towards the east of the hill, in 1913 its dusky chambers were lined with with nine, have-been (local Saxon idiom) Saxon bishops.
Well, the bishops noses went missing in an act of vandalism. A local legend informs us that allegedly intruding Turks cut them off.
When searching for the oldest relief slabs, look out for a coat of arms bearing the initials I.O. and a chalice. Johannes Plebanus coat of arms is shown at several places in this church as it was erected in his tenure. The (intermittent) occupants of the eastern bastion the unimposing small house to the side would hardly have enjoyed the beautiful view from a height. Perhaps towards the end of their stay in the “Marriage Prison as the Biertans Called the one-room building When couples were at odds with each other they were locked into this place until they either reconciled or separated altogether There was a trick to facilitate the settling ofthe dispute in the scanty room there was only one bed, one table, one chair, one plate and cup and one set of cutlery. The couple had to make do under these Circumstances. Apparently this very archaic form of crisis management worked be cause history has in that in 400 years, only one couple was divorced. To days marriage counselling is clearly in no place to compete.
One of the most famous sons of the village was the Bertan pastor Lucas Unglerus. He was born into the heyday of the village and rose through the church ranks to the top bringing Biertan to all Transilvania Significance n 1572 the brethren in the faith elected him church superintendent. Instead of following the common practice to take office in the Saxon capital on the Zion river the Saxon bishop moved his residence into his home village without further ado and church business was carried out from there for the following 295 years.
No doubt, the church building was prestigious and still is, even though the proportions appear to be heavy However, the nave and the chancel being shortened somewhat is owing to the limited space on the hill, and was compensated with wider proportions The edifice seems all the more massive from afar.
Behind the nave there is theCatholicTower, a relic from the Reformation. The members of the old religion were allowed to keep practicing their faith. Admittedly the location is modest, but the ground floor sports historical gems 15th-century frescoes Show Jesus, the angels, St. George in amour Mary and the child receiving the oriental kings Christ the judge of worlds and Christ in a mandorla.
We enter the bishops Church from the north opposite the wooden staircase that led us up here. The fortification around Holy Mary’s Church in Biertan was first mentioned in 1468.
The renovation work giving the church its late gothic style was assumed effected around the end of the 15th century. For the outset of the construction work there is no documentary evidence.
The impressive arched roof of the 22m three-naved church hall isn’t all that old It was re-constructed in eleven years of restauration work starting from 1980. The massive earthquake of 1977 rocking the area around Bucharest left its traces on Biertan. There were large cracks, pieces of the arched roof had shaken lose and demolished the wooden benches in the central nave.
During these restaurations the original late gothic coloration was reproduced decorating the arches with green and Cinnabar rays. The gothic windows were reconstructed in their original form having a center post and crown glass windows.
There was no restraint in the Biertans’ urge to renovate. The new church was to be decorated in a befitting way.
These efforts resulted in the splendid winged altar showing 28 pre reformation image panels the main shrine with a crucifix and two fixed and two movable wings. The outside of the closed altar shows 16 panels with depictions of the Saints The center image bears an inscription of the year 1515
A small door leads from the chancel to the registry. This is where the villagers kept their taxes and the Church treasure safe from attacks. Should an attacker have managed his way into the church, he most probably would have been stalled by the registry lock. A small door leads from the chancel to the registry. This is where the villagers kept their taxes and the Church treasure safe from attacks Should an attacker have managed his way into the church, he most probably would have been stalled by the registry lock.
Not one or two, but 13 hooks attached the filigree renaissance masterpiece to the store walls. In side the registry the piece of art is framed by chiseled hippopotamus heads. Such a frustrated hoodlum might have been left with the question able pleasure to study the interesting door carvings The depict ed fortified towers and coffins convey a clear message. The lock is unparalleled and was sent to a world exhibition inParisin 1900 along with the door frame and mounting.
Services have mostly been discontinued in the church. Most of the senior parishes from the surrounding villages cannot be expected to make the arduous path way up the mount. So the church doesn’t ever fill up like it used to but for the Saxon reunion.
Dignitaries take their age-old Seats in the choir stalls, the pastor del Veres his sermon from the pulpit carved from a single block of sand Stone and the cantor plays the 1869 organ (rebuilt in the year after the falling ceiling destroyed the church).
By the way on the pulpit carvings Simon’s prophecy the face of Pastor Johannes Is Said to be shown once more.
We take a walk down into the village trying to catch a whiff of the Saxon atmosphere surrounding this festive day The younger members of the dance groups are mostly Romanians.
Nowadays who learned about the Saxon traditions at the German schools they attend.
Some middle-aged ladies from the handicraft group tell us that un fortunately the embroidered doileys are out but some sturdy pot holders are still on offer.
Biertan/Birthälm – Guide Village and fortified churches (brochure) din Anselm Roth, Holger Wermke
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