Szeben and the Abbey of Kerc
Szeben (Sibiu, Hermannstadt) is in Transylvania, Romania. The majestic ruins of the Abbey of Kerc (Kerz) are not too far from the city. Szeben used to be a medieval royal and free Hungarian town of southern Transylvania and it became the spiritual and trading center of the German Saxons. Formerly the center of the Transylvanian Saxons, the old city of (Nagy)Szeben was ranked as “Europe’s 8th-most idyllic place to live” by Forbes in 2008.
The town was founded by King Géza II of Hungary who invited Saxons into his kingdom around 1,050. In writing, it was mentioned in 1191 as “Cipin “. In the 14th century, it was already an important trade center. In 1376, the craftsmen were divided into 19 guilds. Szeben became the most important ethnic German city among the seven cities that gave Transylvania its German name “Siebenbürgen” (meaning: “seven cities”). You can find them in the COA of Transylvania, along with the symbols of the Hungarian Székelys (the sun and the Moon), and the Hungarians (the Turul bird). The Saxon Seats (centers) were the next: Kőhalom (Reps, Rupea), Medgyes (Medwisch, Mediaș), Nagysink (Groß-Schenk, Cincu), Sebes (Melnbach, Sebeș), Szeben (Hermannstadt, Sibiu), Szászváros (Bros, Orăștie), Szerdahely (Reismuert, Miercurea Sibiului).
Here is more about the Saxons of Transylvania whose disappearance from Transylvania took place in the 20th century, leaving behind a painful void:
Szeben was home to the Universitas Saxorum (Community of the Saxons), a network of pedagogues, ministers, intellectuals, city officials, and councilmen of the German community forging an ordered legal corpus and political system in Transylvania since the 1400s. It was the center of the Saxons’ Roman Catholic administration until the end of the 15th century.
Hunyadi János, governor of Hungary defeated the army of Bey Mezid in 1444 next to its strong walls which were defended by forty bastions. (Please, note that I use the Oriental name order for Hungarians where family names come first.) The Turks were never able to take it but there was a great fire in 1556. We know that the first printing house in Transylvania began to work there in 1529. Soon, the city became one of the centers of the Reformation.
After the unfortunate Polish campaign of Prince Rákóczi György II, the Crimean Tatar raiders sacked the city in 1658. The Saxons were one of the three “nations” of Transylvania, and at times they didn’t obey the Transylvanian princes, similar to the Székelys. We can see that the city was besieged by Prince Rákóczi György II in 1659.
Szeben was the city where the Noble Estates of Transylvania swore fealty to Emperor Leopold I in 1688 thus breaking the Principality’s loyalty to the Ottoman Empire. It was also there, where two years later they decided to elect Thököly Imre as their prince, nevertheless.
Szeben was the capital of the Principality of Transylvania between 1692 and 1791 and 1849–65 and it had a major role in the Hungarian War of Independence in 1848-49. The Saxons repelled the Hungarians’ attack on 31 January 1849 but General Bem took it back with an ambush on 11 March. After the end of the Revolution, the fortified gates of the city were demolished one by one in the 19th century but we can still see many sections of the city wall, and several towers that survived as well.
The Romanian army took the city in 1916 after a particularly hard siege but it was soon retaken by a similarly hard fight by the Austro-Hungarian and German troops.
Here are a few videos which I can recommend to you, the first is a longer one, it is in the Hungarian language:
and this one is in English:
However, the best is to go and visit it and see this fabulous city with your own eyes. Check out the pictures in the gallery at the end of this article, and enjoy the sights of this very special city.
The Abbey of Kerc
Kerc (Kloster Kerz, Mănăstirea Cârța) is a former Cistercian (Benedictine) monastery in the Fogaras region in southern Transylvania in Romania, currently a Lutheran Evangelical church belonging to the local Saxon community.
Enjoy the video:
Kerc lies on the left bank of the Olt River, between the cities of Szeben and Fogaras. It was founded between 1198-1202 by King Imre who invited monks and architects from France. At first, only a wooden church stood there but it was soon replaced by a stone building by the French monks. The church was surrounded by a stone wall in 1230.
The Mongols attacked it in 1241 but it was rebuilt in 1247. The new church was reconstructed by combining the elements of the late Romanesque and the early Gothic style, according to French examples. At around 1300, the church and the east wing of the Kerc Abbey were already finished and the works on the south side continued for about two decades.
King Kun László kept the Holy Crown of Hungary there in 1262 and the Cumans were besieging the Abbey at that time. King Károly Róbert gave further benefits to the Abbey in 1322.
There were 12 monks in the Abbey in 1357, they were not only praying and preaching but were copying codexes, too. They had the right to issue documents as well. We know a document of King Zsigmond from 1398 where Kerc was mentioned: it stated that there were many ancestors of the Hungarian kings are buried in the church.
During the first part of the 15th century, the Abbey had to face several Ottoman and Wallachian attacks, raids, and the monks were not strong enough to defend it.
Finally, it was King Matthias Corvinus who took away the privileges of the Abbey in 1469 and attached the abbey to the Provostry of Szeben. Then, the Abbey of Kerc began to decline. The cathedral and the walls were in very bad condition already in the 16th century. However, the tower that was built in 1495 is still standing, just like the two-story-tall western section of the wall.
Unfortunately, the northern navel and the cellar of the chapel collapsed in 1648. Obviously, the Protestant Saxons of Szeben who were the official caretakers of the Catholic church didn’t spend much money on it. Later, the sanctuary was reconstructed and now it is a functioning Evangelic church. It is worth visiting because you won’t see such Gothic wonders further to the East from here in entire Europe.
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Here are a few pictures of Szeben and the Abbey of Kerc: