Tale of a sleepy town with a 300-year-old marital prison


In the beautiful Romanian town of Biertan, known for its slow-paced life, horse-drawn carts and cobbled village community spaces, the 15th century church occupies the centre-stage. Located inside the secured walls of the Transylvania’s seven Saxon Unesco World Heritage church is a small structure having a room of size that of a kitchen. About three centuries back, when the married couples came to the brink of divorce, they would seek refuge in the tiny room for six weeks under the guidance of the local bishop in order to resolve their marital differences. Clearly, the room was meant to help couples prevent divorce.

The idea of getting willingly locked up in a prison with your better half, whom you are unable to get along with, might arouse doubt in the mind of most. The truth, however, is, the trick actually worked–there was only one divorce in 300 years!

In former times, Lutheranism, the religion of the Transylvanian Saxons, pervaded almost all the facts of life. The married couples were allowed to get divorced under exceptional cases like adultery; the society still proposed they avoid parting ways. Therefore, couples would seek the counsel of the bishop, who, on his part, would ask them to give their marriage another shot by staying in a prison for six weeks or so. There would be a single pillow, blanket and a single table in the “prison”–all of which the couple had to share (which they did in the hope of mending their differences).

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