The Romanian Church With a Divorce Room

In the middle of Romanian Transylvania, far from any major cities, lies the small, picturesque village of Biertan. This lovely town is worth visiting in its own right, as it’s been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1993.

Biertan is also quite old. It was first mentioned in official documentation in 1283. Its most impressive work of architecture, though, is its 15th century fortified church, which sits on top of a hill in the middle of the village. This house of worship/fortress is completely encircled by 35-foot-high defensive walls, which made it impossible to conquer during much of its history.

romaniaturismo.it
romaniaturismo.it

The church has many other impressive features, including its multi-panelled wooden altar and its Viennese organ, with over 1290 pipes and 25 registers. The most interesting part of the church, however, is a small room located in the church’s Prison Tower.

This room was not used to house thieves or murderers. In an era when the church was responsible for administering family law as well as seeing to the spiritual needs of its parishioners, the room was used to perform a primitive type of marital counselling. This chamber is now known to us as the Divorce Room because couples who wanted to get a divorce had to agree to be locked into this tiny cell together for two weeks before a divorce would be granted.

The Divorce Room had only one bed, one pillow, one blanket, one plate, and one set of cutlery. They were also given only bread and water for sustenance. There was only one of everything, which forced the unhappy couples to share everything during their two-week “marriage retreat.” According to legend surrounding the room, in over 300 years of its use, only one couple decided to go through with their divorce plans after undergoing the ordeal.

There are several theories explaining why this odd form of couple’s therapy worked. First, the confinement of the spouses took them away from their daily stresses and chores. This allowed them to focus on each other and re-establish healthy communication. Shame could have also played a factor in the Divorce Room’s success. It was most likely considered shameful to be locked in the room, so many couples may have worked out their differences before being subject to the public humiliation of being locked in the cell.

Experts today generally disagree with the idea of forcing couples to reconcile. Absent from the historical record of Biertan are statistics regarding instances of spousal abuse or intimidation that might have occurred in the chamber. We also don’t know how well these marriages worked out in practice after the spouses returned home.

The Divorce Room has been preserved, and you can still visit it today. No matter your thoughts on this unusual divorce deterrent, the fortified church and the village of Biertan are worth a stop on any Romanian tour itinerary.

Next Article
ADVERTISEMENT
  • Weird Food of the Middle Ages

    People often like to romanticize the Middle Ages, imagining it as a time of knights and princesses, all dressed in elaborate medieval garb. Some even dream about going back in time to experience life during that time, and renaissance fairs and a popular dinner show have capitalized quite well on this obsession. But many people...

    Read More
  • Witches and Alewives: The Historical Connection

    From The Wizard of Oz to Halloween costumes, the archetypal image of a scary witch typically includes a tall, pointy hat, a cauldron, and a broom, among other accessories. But where did this popular conception arise? Many would be surprised to learn that our idea of what a witch looks like is based on the...

    Read More
  • America’s Secret Female President

    Edith Bolling Galt Wilson seemed an unlikely prospect for running one of the most powerful countries in the world. The second wife of President Woodrow Wilson was born in 1872 to a very poor family from the mountains of Virginia. Though she was given a chance to go to college, she dropped out because her...

    Read More
  • The Reality Behind the Legend of the Golden Fleece

    If you are familiar at all with Greek mythology, you have probably heard about the legend of the Golden Fleece. In this story, Jason (a Greek mythological hero) gathered a group of fellow-heroes together. This group became known as the Argonauts because their ship was named Argo, and Jason was their leader. The purpose of...

    Read More
  • Aaron Burr: Would-Be King

    Aaron Burr, one of the United States’ founding fathers and its one-time Vice President, has generally gone down in history as a bad guy because of the duel in which he killed Alexander Hamilton, America’s first Secretary of the Treasury. But for some reason, most people don’t know anything about another chapter in his life...

    Read More
  • Ancient Crocodile Species Identified

    A research team made up of paleontologists from Tennessee, Wisconsin, and Texas has identified a previously unknown species of prehistoric crocodile. The ancient reptile fossils were found in Arlington, Texas, a busy city located right in the middle of the Dallas/Fort Worth metropolitan area. The massive crocodile, which could reach lengths of up to 20...

    Read More
  • The Murder and Lynching that Changed America

    April 26, 1913 was supposed to have been a good day for 13-year-old Mary Phagan. It was Confederate Memorial Day in Atlanta, Georgia, where she lived. She was off for the day from her job at the National Pencil Company. Her plans included stopping by work to pick up her pay and then joining family...

    Read More
  • Female Viking Warrior Grave Identified

    In the 1880s, a Viking grave was excavated in the town of Birka in Sweden. It was obviously the grave of a warrior because it was filled with grave goods signifying as much. Along with weapons, like an axe, arrows, shields, a battle knife, a spear, and a sword, two war horses were also found...

    Read More