Modern History Sourcebook:
Andrew F. Crosse:
The Transylvanian Germans, 1878
I remained several days at Hermannstadt, principally for the sake of resting my horses,
which unfortunately had been rubbed by the saddle-bags on my ride from Petroseny. I spent
the time agreeably enough, exploring the neighbourhood and making chance acquaintances. I
bought here Bishop Teusch's History of Transylvanian Saxons, a hand-book in two
volumes. It interested me very much, especially reading it in the country itself where so
many stirring scenes had been enacted. Wishing to see some of the neighboring villages, I
set off one fine day on a walking expedition. I chose Sunday, because on that day one can
see to best advantage the costume of the peasants. Hammersdorf is a pretty enough village,
"fair with orchard lawns," but not so charming as Heltau, which, standing on
high ground, commands an extensive view of the whole plain, with the old "Red
Town" in the foreground of the picture. The church in this village is a very fine
specimen of the fortified churches, which are a unique feature of the Transylvanian
borderland. The origin of this form of architecture is very obvious; it was necessary to
have a defence against the incursions of the Tartars and Turks, who for centuries troubled
the peace of this fair land. In every village of the Saxons in the south and east of
Transylvania the church is also a fortified place, fitted to maintain a siege if
necessary. The construction of these buildings varies according to circumstances: the
general character is that the sacred edifice is surrounded, or forms part of a strong wall
with its watchtowers; not infrequently a second and even a third wall surround the place.
In every case a considerable space of ground is enclosed around the church, sufficent to
provide accommodation for the villagers; in fact every family with a house outside had a
corresponding hut within the fortified walls. Here, too, was a granary, and some of the
larger places had also their school-tower attached to the church. It happened not
unfrequently that the villagers were obliged to remain for some weeks in their sanctuary.
Heltau is an industrious little place. Here is manufactured the peculiar white frieze
so much worn by the Wallachians. Nearly every house has its loom, but I was told the trade
is less flourishing than formerly. The woollen-cloth manufacturers of Transylvania have
suffered very much from the introduction of foreign goods; but, on the other hand, if they
would bestir themselves they might enormously increase their exports. Heltau is a
market-place, and reserves many old privileges very jealously. Its inhabitants were often
in dispute with the burghers of Herrmannstadt, and on one occasion they had the audacity,
in rebuilding their church-tower, to place four turrets upon it. Their neighbours regarded
this with great indignation, for are not four turrets the sign and symbol of civic
authority? The burghers of Herrmannstadt hereupon obliged the men of Heltau to sign a
bond, saying that "they were but humble villagers", and promising to treat their
haughty neighbours with all due "honor, fear, and friendship."
From Heltau I went on to Michaelsburg, an extremely curious place. In the centre of a
lovely valley rises a conical rock of gneiss, protruding to the height of 200 feet or
more. This is crowned by the ruins of a Romanesque church. There are, I believe, only two
other specimens of this kind of architecture in the country. The time of the building of
Michaelsburg is stated to be between 1173 and 1223. Before the use of artillery this
fortified church on the rock must have really been impregnable. Inside the walls I found a
quantity of large round stones---the shot and shell of those days; these stones were
capable of making considerable havoc amongst a besieging party I should say. The custom
was in the old time that no young man should be allowed to take unto himself a wife >till he had carried one such stone from the bed of
the river where they are found, to the summit of the rock within the church walls. As
these stones weigh between two and three hundred-weight, and the ascent is very steep, it
was a test of strength. The villagers were anxious to prevent the weaklings from marrying
lest they should spoil the hardy race.
From: Andrew F. Crosse, Round About the Carpathians, (Edinburgh: William
Blackwood and Sons, 1878), pp. 178-181, reprinted in Alfred J. Bannan & Achilles
Edelenyi, eds., Documentary History of Eastern Europe, (New York: Twayne
Publishers, 1970), pp. 156-158.
Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text has been modernized by
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