The fortified churches of Transylvania, all built by Saxon settlers, are among the most impressive monuments that Romania has to offer, halfway between religious heritage and medieval castles. From the 12th century onwards, Saxon settlers were offered special privileges to inhabit these regions, which were plagued by chronic incursions by invaders from the East. Thus, the settlers lived for centuries in autarky in their fortified villages that gave the Transylvanian region its German name "Siebenbürgen" (7 fortresses).
Throughout Europe's history there have been numerous conflicts and eras of turmoil. Religious buildings were often the largest and strongest buildings in urban areas, which meant that people often used them as shelters when problems arose. These 10 fortified sites are outstanding examples of the intersection of defensive and sacred architecture
Throughout the Middle Ages, the island of Bornholm in the Baltic Sea was disputed between the Danes, the Saxons and the Wends (West Slavic peoples). In addition, the island was exposed to piracy. Being under constant threat, fortresses were built in the 11th century and in the 12th century the island's churches were also fortified in order to protect the island's inhabitants in the event of an attack.
The All Saints Church of Boltongate was built at the beginning of the 15th century on an old Norman church from the 12th century. The church was probably fortified in the context of the border wars between the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland. To date, the almost 1-metre thick stone wall and it has a stone vaulted nave and transepts.
The Monastery of Leça do Balio, which houses the fortified church of Santa Maria de Leça do Balio, was founded around the 10th century at the border of the Asturian Kingdom in the context of the ‘Reconquista’. In possession of the Order of Malta from the 12th century, the monastery was enlarged and renovated with Romanesque style defensive features, with a 28-meter high tower complete with arrow slits and machicolations.
The Fortified Church of the Holy Spirit, founded between the 11th and 12th century, is one of the best preserved and oldest fortified churches in Germany. The current building dates to the middle of the 15th century and was fortified in response to the Hussite riots (1419-1436) in neighbouring Bohemia. The vast walled area includes the cemetery and the present sacristan house.
The Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Muravanka is a monument of sacred defensive architecture in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Founded in the 16th century, the church is a mixture of Gothic and Renaissance styles. The church suffered successive wars in the 17th and 18th century but was repaired in 1871-1872.
The church of Solna is a Romanesque church founded in the 12th century as a fortified church, due to raids from the Karelians, as evidenced by the looting of the nearby town of Sigtuna in 1187. Although the church has retained most of its exterior medieval form, the church's interior decoration dates back to the 17th century. The building was restored in 1928.
Saint-Martial de Rudelle church was founded in 1250 as a hospital chapel. The church acquired its fortifications in the 14th century, during the Hundred Years' War. Although outside the battle lines, Rudelle was plagued by mercenary looting. The fortifications were again used during the religious wars against Protestant troops. The church underwent restoration works in the 1890s.
The Fortified Church of St. Arbogast was founded in the 8th century, and since the 15th century, was completely enclosed by a circular wall. In the 14th and 15th centuries, the border region of Basel was plagued with wars between the Habsburgs and the rising Swiss confederacy.
The origins of the Church of the Holy Trinity are a subject of debate (12th or 15th century) due to the building's strange architectural style. However, its defensive nature is evident. Embedded in a thick wall and surrounded by two towers, the church was a protection against Turkish attacks in the region, quite frequent in the 16th century. Inside the church, there are magnificent medieval frescos representing a 'Danse Macabre' which can still be admired today.