By its position, being the southeastern border of Hungarian Kingdom, and, afterwards, of the Austrian Empire, the Principality of Transylvania was a strategic place. Throughout the medieval time and early modernity, it was endowed with the mission of defence from invaders that might come from Central Asia. Of the entire Principality, a special focus would be placed in turn on the southeastern limit, more precisely, on the area called Burzenland (e.g. the name comes from the river, Burzen (Bârsa in Romanian), that crosses it). In the early thirteenth century, the Teutonic Knights were invited to settle here and, subsequently, to build defence systems. The network of fortified churches, settlements or towns like those of Râșnov/Rosenau, Prejmer/Tartlau, Hărman/Honigberg or Kronstadt/Brașov was considered effective in guarding the mountain passages against all populations that might seek to attack Transylvania from the south. 

Even earlier than the thirteenth century, there were waves of colonisers, mostly Germans of Saxony that came to exploit the rich mountain resources of the area. The most significant of the first waves settled in Hermannstadt, today Sibiu. This way, until well into the nineteenth century, a significant German population settled all over Transylvania. In the last decades of the nineteenth century, most of the villages and settlements of central and south Transylvania had German population ranging from 50 to 90%.  

Apart from the initial military layers, some other professional profiles of the Germans here were associated with the craftsmanship of various kinds, from iron to wood, to construction, manufacturing, all modern professions in short. Nevertheless, military and administration were the fields mostly filled by Germans in Transylvania, at least until the end of the eighteenth century. After Reformation, in the sixteen century, most of the churches of the area became and stayed Lutheran or Evangelical, as the Saxon Germans called them via the German language. The humanist intellectual of the time, Johannes Honter, a native of   Kronstadt/Brașov, brought the Protestant ideas to Transylvania, following his study journeys in the Holy Roman Empire (e.g. Vienna). Honter managed to turn the local Saxon German elite in loyal adepts of Martin Luther’s preaches. When Transylvania became part of the Austrian Empire, hence it started to be governed by the Catholic Habsburgs, the Transylvanian Germans kept their Lutheran leanings. This was true for all their existence in the area, even in Communism.  

Indeed, there have been hard times for the Transylvanian Germans throughout history. With the onset of the modern era in Transylvania, the power and influence of German community started to fade; the context was that of increasing aggressive nationalism from the side of Hungarians and Romanians, the other two important ethnic communities of Transylvania. After WWI, when Transylvania was incorporated in the extended Romanian state, those cities were German communities represented an important number faced policies that favoured the citizens of Romanian ethnicity. In the times of Communism, the German ethnics were unjustly treated on account of their religion. In 1989, after the fall of Communism, many Germans of Transylvania left Romania for Germany. Today, however, like elsewhere in Eastern Europe, communities are being rebuilt, many of the Saxon Germans are coming back to claim their properties and to set up various enterprises. The houses and churches that once belonged to this community represent one of the most valuable architectural patrimonies of present-day Romania and southeast Europe. 

As mentioned above, the oldest German community settled in Hermannstadt, on the place of the city called today Sibiu (e.g. based on the Latin name of the oldest settlement, Cibinium). The name Hermannstadt is presumably related to the name of the person who led the population that eventually settled in the area. In the eighteenth century, Hermannstadt was the residence of the Habsburg governor of the Principality of Transylvania, Baron Samuel von Brukenthal. His palace that hosts his impressive art collection is one of the major tourist attractions of the city. This important dignitary was buried in the Lutheran church of the town, one of the oldest of its kind. It was initially built in the twelfth century and reconstructed in the fourteenth. It presents a mix of architectural styles, of which Gothic is the most important. Today, the church has on display a very interesting collection of tomb plates that belonged to the graves of the local officials of Hermannstadt interred in the church in the thirteenth to the eighteenth century.  In addition, the funerary monument and all the political symbols (e.g. medals, heraldry) of Baron von Brukenthal can be seen, as well.    

The Râșnov/Rosenau church (Rosenau means rose meadow in German; the symbol of the city is a bunch of three roses) was built in the fourteenth century in the basilica style. It would be transformed in Baroque style in the second half of the eighteenth century. Unfortunately, in the next three centuries since its establishment, the church suffered several misfortunes like fires and earthquakes. The point of attraction of the church is a Renaissance fresco of the early fifteenth century that was covered when the church became Lutheran.  The long years of coverage damaged it irreversibly. 

The second church of the Burzenland to be presented here (the first being the above mentioned Rosenau) is Prejmer/Tartlau fortified complex. The church was built in the thirteenth century and has later Gothic additions. By far, the most interesting feature of the church is the mid-fifteenth century altar, which is a triptych; it is the oldest in Transylvania. Apart from this, there is a collection of Anatolian rugs that the visitor would see in the Rosenau church too. It is said that these make a total of eighty; in any case, they are on display in the Lutheran churches throughout southern Transylvania. Most probably, the area being a contact point between the southern Ottoman commerce, and the northern one, these rugs are the proof of intense economic connections between Transylvania and the Ottoman Empire. The Lutheran churches take pride in having them on display, moreover, it is claimed that the rugs used to serve as the sole decorations in Lutheran churches. 

The third church of the Burzenland area, Hărman/Honigberg (the honey mountain in German) was built in the thirteenth century and it boasts a very interesting mix of Romanesque, Renaissance, and Gothic features. Honigberg is one of the few Lutheran churches that kept the pre-Reformation frescoes. In this case, it is a fifteenth-century painting hosted by the chapel tower, itself built in 1300. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “Lutheran Churches of Transylvania (Locations: Sibiu/Hermannstadt, Râșnov/Rosenau, Prejmer/Tartlau, Hărman/Honigberg)

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