The Viscri Fortified Church
The main landmark in the isolated village of Viscri, Braşov County, located roughly midway between Braşov and Sighişoara, is the ancient “White Church”, the Saxon fortified place of worship that lent its name to the village too. The village is famous both for this ancient architectural complex, listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, and for the interest displayed by prince Charles of the British Royal Family, who visits it often and is deeply involved in restoring its charm.
Though it must be said that, as far as charm goes, both the village and the fortification have plenty of it, and it’s only material repairs and renovation works that require special funding. The church in particular is renowned not only as the most ancient fortified church of Transylvania, but also as one of those who have best preserved their initial appearance.
The White Church
The first official record of the “White Church” dates from the year 1400, but scholars consider it much older, since various archaeological discoveries, including coins and earrings, seem to place it around 1100 or 1120, when it would have been erected by a group of Szeklers guarding the frontier of the medieval Hungarian state, before the arrival of Saxon settlers. When the latter established their community here, towards the end of the XII century, they found a chapel built of greenish-white limestone. It was this particular type of construction stone, as well as the white fortification walls of the complex, that accounted for the name of the church.
The air of freedom is strong in Viscri, as this village was never included in any private estate and always retained its autonomy. Towards the end of the XIII century, after a certain magister Akus failed to purchase the village for his estate, the fortified church passed into the hands of the people of Viscri, who adopted it as a symbol of their freedom and set about fortifying it, to preserve said freedom.
The current church within this medieval complex is a 1498 reconstruction of the existing chapel, which had been destroyed during the Tartar invasion of 1241. It is a hall church built in the Romanesque architectural style and enlarged during the XVI century so as to form a trapezoidal nave. Among the many priceless items it contains, the most valuable one, representing one of the main attractions of the church, is the baptistery, made from the stone of a Romanic impost dating from the XIII century.
Fortification efforts started in the second half of the XIII century, when a basalt tower was erected close to the existing chapel. It was also at that time that the locals built the surrounding defensive wall. At the end of the XV century the original chapel was rebuilt, but with significant differences from the initial layout and structure. The XVI century saw the appearance of another two towers and two bulwarks, added on the south-eastern side. Then, in the XVII century, the last two towers were erected in the western and northern corner of the fortification. Finally, in the XVIII century, a second set of defense walls was added, fragments of which are still visible today.