BBC: Why this Romanian village had one divorce in 300 years

Biertan, a beautiful village in Romania’s famous region Transylvania, had its own remedy for divorce: a ‘marital prison’ where couples whose marriages were not working anymore were locked up for weeks to solve their issues.

BBC wrote a story about Biertan’s ‘medieval remedy for divorce’, telling readers that, although it sounds like a nightmare, the solution was quite effective as only one couple divorced in 300 years.

The local bishop was the one locking the people in the tiny prison, where they would spend six weeks working to bring their marriage back to life. While in there, they were supposed to share everything, from a single pillow and table 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,” reads the BBC story.

If the couple did decide to divorce after spending the long weeks in the prison, the husband had to pay his ex-wife half of his earnings. However, if he remarried and divorced again, the second wife was entitled to nothing.

“The reason to remain together was probably not love. The reason was to work and to survive,” Ulf Ziegler, Biertan’s current priest, told the BBC. “If a couple was locked inside for six weeks, it was very hard for them to have enough food the following year, so there was pressure to get out and to continue to work together.”

The so-called ‘marital prison’ is located in a small building near the village’s 15th-Century fortified church. Nowadays, the dark prison is a museum complete with long-suffering mannequins.

Biertan is one of the most important Saxon villages with fortified churches in Transylvania. It has been on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1993. According to data compiled by the Romanian Evangelical Church, the Saxon church in Biertan was the third most visited such church in Romania, after the Black Chuch in Brasov and the Evangelical Cathedral in Sibiu.

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Irina Marica, [email protected]

(photo source: Wikipedia)

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