Bierton Fortified Church
We have visited fortified towns and fortresses that have churches within their walled perimeters, and even fortified monasteries; but churches that are themselves fortified? This was our first. Fortified churches, of which there are approximately 150 in Transylvania alone, are effectively poor-man’s fortified towns. Unable to afford or justify the expense of building a fortress around an entire town, some smaller towns took a less expensive route. They fortified their church (and often central town storehouses), the most important institution and buildings in their communities. In case of attack or siege, all the town’s residents, and often their livestock, retreat into the church grounds to ride out the attack or siege.
Bierton’s fortified church dates to the 14th century when Saxon settlers sought protection from the Ottomans that had been raiding Austro-Hungarian towns and settlements. The Gothic-style church, which was built on the foundations of an earlier Romanesque structure, has two complete and one partial rows of exterior fortifications and seven towers. The clocktower, which serves as the complex’s primary gate, has its own fortifications, including a battlement, as does the church. Just as impressive is the thick, wood, inlaid door to the sacristy, where the church’s treasures are held, is protected by an amazing lock system that secures the door at 14 different points on the top and bottom, as well as on the side.
The church itself has three naves and Renaissance enhancements to its generally Gothic style. It has a 28-panel, 15th-century altarpiece and the chapel a mural painting from the 16th century.
Despite all its precautions, the church was once occupied and robbed (in 1704) and even its fortifications couldn’t withstand a 1977 earthquake, the damages from which were repaired in the 1980s.
Richis Fortified Church
A funny thing happened on the way to Biertan. While on the way to visit the town’s fortified Gothic church, we passed another fortified Gothic-style church in a town only five kilometers from our destination. Although it too had narrow, slit windows far from the ground and was accessible through a thick wooden door through its bell tower, this church is notably smaller and less ornate and it is surrounded by only a single wall that is only about six-feet tall, in contrast to Biertan’s roughly 15-foot outer walls. Still, we got to see two very different fortified churches instead of one.