Tucked amid the rolling hills of Transylvania sits an imposing fortified church laden with picturesque lookouts, rustic brick-and-mortar walls, three rows of gate towers – and one room known to locals as “marital hell.”
With its skyline of lush greenery and red roofs, time seems to stand still in the small community of Beirtan, which dates back to the 13th century. In 1524, Transylvanian Saxons completed Beirtan’s elaborate fortified church – which became the see of the Saxon Lutheran Church from 1572 to 1867. In this historic place, an old Lutheran marriage counseling practice proved extremely effective, since only one divorce was granted in 300 years.
Couples considering a divorce in Beirtan sought marriage counseling from the local Bishop, who often sent them to marital hell: a prison cell located deep within this fortified church. In this cramped room, couples were forced to share a small bed, a single set of cutlery, a table and chair, and one blanket, until they found a solution to their problems or six weeks had elapsed (whichever came first).
Forcing couples to tackle their issues head-on seems to have been a potent “cure” for divorce, since only one couple stuck it out and opted for divorce instead of ironing out the troubles in their marriage and receiving early release from marriage prison.
This practice might seem draconian by today’s standards, but the marital prison was surprisingly effective. The prison itself was created to preserve the Lutheran heritage of the area, and was more about survival than marriage, as couples needed one another to be able to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads.
The vacation in marital hell was intended to last about six weeks. However, as time passed, spouses became increasingly motivated to resolve their differences as the time spent in this room became an economic burden to themselves and the community.
The church continues to be a popular tourist attraction for travelers, both singles and couples, and is a reminder of the ways that were once instilled – and the power that was held – by the evangelical Bishops in Romanian Transylvania.
“Marital Hell” photo source: AmazingRomania.net