Thursday, 13 July 2017

Romania's Medieval Marital Prison.




It may sound like a nightmare, but records show that this form of marriage counselling in Transylvania was rather effective.

Picturesque Biertan, one of Transylvania's seven Saxon Unesco World Heritage villages, feels frozen in time. Horse-drawn carts are still a part of daily life, and local residents gather to trade their wares in a cobbled village square. At the heart of the village, a 15th-Century fortified church towers over the surrounding structures from its hilltop perch.

Inside the church grounds, along one of its fortification walls, is a small building with a room inside barely larger than a pantry. For 300 years, couples whose marriages were on the rocks would find themselves here, locked away for up to six weeks by the local bishop in hope that they would iron out their problems and avert a divorce.

"Thanks to this blessed building, in the 300 years that Biertan had the bishop's seat we only had one divorce," said Ulf Ziegler, Biertan's current priest.

Today, the small, dark prison is a museum complete with long-suffering mannequins. The room has low ceilings and thick walls, and is sparsely equipped with a table and chair, a storage chest and a traditional Saxon bed that looks small enough to belong to a child. As couples attempted to repair their marriages inside this tiny space, everything had to be shared, from a single pillow and blanket to the lone table setting.

Lutheranism, the religion of the Transylvanian Saxons, governed most aspects of life, and although divorce was allowed under certain circumstances - such as adultery - it was preferred that couples attempt to save their union. So a couple seeking divorce would voluntarily visit the bishop, who would send them to the marital prison to see if their differences could be reconciled before they parted ways.

Walking through the streets of Biertan as the sun begins to disappear behind the rolling hills, a few locals sit outside drinking beers and a farmer moves his hay cart through the village. The imposing church, with its nine surrounding fortification towers, is illuminated by bright lights and its purpose evident: it was a central point for the early Saxon settlers - a place of safety and worship.

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