The Fortified Church of Dârjiu

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A fortified church is a church that is built to play a defensive role in times of war, built by the Saxons and Szeklers of Transylvania. Such churches were specially designed to incorporate military features, such as thick walls, battlements and embrasures. Churches with additional external defences such as curtain walls and wall towers are often referred to more specifically as fortress churches or Kirchenburgen (literally "church castles").

The most spectacular and well preserved monument is in Chair of Udverhely in Székelyderzs. The construction history, architectural styles, decorations and artifacts can be well observed on/in the church – this is why this edifice is frequently mentioned in art and architecture history books. Its stunning architecture, its splendid frescoes and the gastro-cultural offer of the community makes this place one of the most attractive tourist destinations in the region.

In 1334 the village’s priest, Tamás, has already been paying the tithes papal income tax, whereas the beginning of the church construction can pe dated to the 13th-14th century. First built in Romanesque style, the church was transformed into a Gothic one in the latter part of the 15th century with the support of the Petky family. In the same period, in 1419, the frescoes are painted on the walls of the already enlarged and renovated church. The fortifications’ oldest and most visible element, the tower, crucial part of the defense system, is to the south of the church. Before 1605 the church was attacked and destroyed by foreigners more than once. In the following decades the church was reconstructed in its present form: the 5 m high walls form a square; their bastions (4) are at an oblique angle and jut out from the walls at all four corners. A similar bastion is found in the middle of the western wall. The semi-cylindrical rib-vaulted arches, which reach into the nave and the choir, date to the first half of the 16th century. An extra floor was added (above the ship and the shrine), in order to have enough space for the men (weapons and ammunition) defending the church. Over the 18th century the church gradually lost its role as a fortress and shelter: the towers got covered with tile, the protective revetments were demolished and got replaced with storage rooms. They stored here the most valuable things of the church and community, such as textiles, grains or wine. The measuring bushels are preserved in a quite good condition and can be seen in their original places. The bacon, ham, sausage are still stored (like in the old days) in the roof of the tower.

In 1887 József Huszka discovered the frescoes on the church walls, which in recent years have been carefully restored. The most detailed mural is a Conversion of Paul the Apostle that includes the painter’s portrait. On the southern wall three saint bishops are painted. One of them, Saint Michael is represented as an armored soldier. The biblical tale of Saul’s (Apostle Paul) conversion is also visible here. On the northern wall of the ship the mural depicts Saint Ladislaus resting in the arms of a maiden and other painted scenes from the legends of Saint Ladislaus. The background is also a detailed work of art: on the dark main background star-like petals are drawn with much attention. On the built up window of the church a brick with szekler runes was discovered, dating from 1419.

Since 2006 the building complex is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The whole building complex is a wonder. First of all, because the tourist cannot just simply “trip” on it, secondly, because one must see and taste those famous sausages (it is advisable to announce the visit at the parish).

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Suggested by

Gyarmati Zsolt

Historian, warden of Csíki Székely Museum