Szászfehéregyháza is in Transylvania, Romania. It is a Saxon village called Deutsch-Weisskirch, it is called Viscri in Romanian.
Szászfehéregyháza is located hidden in the eastern part of the Oltmelléki Hills, at the Székely (Zekel) Creek. It is quite hard to get there but it is worth the effort because we can take delight in its famous Lutheran fortified Gothic church. The Hungarian name refers to the walls of the church: it has been neatly whitewashed all the time.
The place was originally established by the Hungarian Székelys but soon Saxon settlers were invited there. The German name of the village includes the word “weißkirch” (white church) which refers to the chapel previously built by the Székelys during the reign of King Géza II between 1141 and 1162. The first fortifications around the semi-circular chapel date back to the 12th century, they were built by Hungarians. Four Romanesque capitals that survive in the choir, including one used as a baptismal font, also originate in this period.
In the 13th century, the Saxons built a Romanesque hall church, using the materials of the chapel. The old sanctuary was then extended, and the choir, which was semicircular on the inside and closed on three sides of the octagon on the outside, was reinforced with buttresses. The nave was lengthened to the west and connected to the tower.
The new church integrated the chapel but also introduced changes, such as a wooden seat gallery at the western end. The apse, its altar possibly of the Romanesque period, features a scalloped capital unique to Transylvania. The design was popular in 12th-century Germany but disappeared soon after reaching Austria, suggesting the church dates to no later than the first half of the 13th century. Here you can read more about the Saxons of Transylvania:
The church was mentioned first in 1231, and in the 14th century, it became a community church. The apse was replaced by a larger trapezoidal choir. The church was fortified around 1500: the hall was lengthened and linked to the keep, formerly freestanding and probably belonging to the family of a count. Another level was added to the keep, used for bells and fitted with a battlement that stayed on corbels. The roof had an additional sixth level with embrasures for firing.
The choir’s defensive level was demolished in 1743. Due to the peaceful nature of the period, the church battlement was taken down after that time, and replaced by grain storerooms for the villagers. The interior ceiling has a ceiling divided into squares, also from 1743, around which time the austere furnishings were put in place.
Forming an oval and made of river and fieldstone, the southern, eastern, and northeastern walls have survived; these are 7 m in height. The entrance is through the southeast wall, to which two towers and two bastions were added in the 14th century. The southern tower, built into the wall exterior, had three floors and a battlement resting on wooden corbels. Sharing a roof with the southern bastion, the tower’s lower levels were joined into a hall entered from the east. The topmost level kept its parapets, with their oak border and moveable logs that could shut in defenders.
In the Saxon forts, the storage rooms and chambers were often located under the parapets. The southern bastion’s battlement and roof were joined with those of the southern tower. In front of the western façade of the nave, a huge, square-shaped massive tower was built. Under its roof, they built a wooden balcony in the 16th century. The southern and eastern towers were partly turned into dwelling places. On the southeastern side, a gate tower was built in 1650. All the towers are supplied with parapets.
The fortified church is surrounded by a lower stone wall, in some places it has been demolished. Inside the church, the painted wooden panels and the panels of the benches are very nicely decorated, just like the pulpit. The paintings were assumedly made in 1724.
The fortified church of Szászfehéregyháza is part of the World Heritage since 1993 and the UNESCO is keeping an eye on it. Prince Charles of Wales established a foundation to preserve the Saxon houses of the village. There are some Hungarian aristocrats, too, who are also preserving old monuments in Transylvania but we don’t hear much about them in mainstream media, do we?
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