The small village Sylbitz is situated a few kilometres southwest of the well-known mountain Petersberg with it´s famous collegiate church. Historical sources mention the site as “Sulwitz” for the first time in 1260AD. The historical document concerning the purchase of land by the inhabitants of the village in order to support their church refers to a priest of Sylbitz. Therefore this source is not only important because it keeps the oldest information about the church but also because it mentions it´s parish rights already. Nonetheless, during the manifestation of these records the church itself was already about 60 years old. Architectural traits and dendrochronological analysis of timbers from the tower point towards an edification at around 1200AD.
This church, situated on a hill at the edge of the village is of high art- and cultural-historical relevance. One of it´s peculiarities is the position of the tower which in this region usually has been erected in the west – but in Sylbitz the tower raises in the East, above the choir. This distinct feature is focussed on the Frankonian and Thuringian area. Moreover, the building has not underwent major architectural rearrangements. In opposition to most of the surrounding rural churches most of the original Romanesque nature has been preserved here. The only remarkable changes happened during the 17th century when the windows of the Southern wall had been enlarged and wooden stalls together with a gallery and a pulpit had been added. Further, in 1863 the old morgue had been substituted by the still existing porch. The large number of preserved Medieval ornaments and furnishings bestow a special experiencable consistency. This original atmosphere of a Medieval rural parish curch can hardly be found anywhere else in this region.
The church consists of a rectangular hall, a square indented choir with the tower above and a semicircular apse. Nave and tower each carry a saddleback roof. The walls were made of the local porphyry, only wall corners and ornaments were made of sandstone. That in mind, the the apse built completely of sandstone seems striking and reveals the emphase this special part, the sanctum, underwent. The tapering of the building and the stepwise elevation of the floor level create a staggering of the inner space which automatically leads the eye of the entering visitor to the left, i.e. the altar and the apse. Except for the roof structure the fabric of the building originates from the erection era. The small round arched windows in the northern wall show, together with the apse window, the original lighting design whereas the windows in the southern wall have been enlarged during the Baroque in order to enhance brightness. But due to remaining splays of the original windows their shape and position are reconstructable. Further original are the quatrefoil in the western gable and all openings in the tower (the oeil de boeuf in it´s southern wall and all four biforia of the belfry).
The entrance is, esp. for a rural church, remarkably elaborate designed. It is a staged portal framed by roll moulding topped by a tympanon. This tympanon shows the tree of life in the center and on it´s left hand side palmette leaves and rosettes which may be interpreted as symbols for the paradise. The right side carries two animals. Unfortunately they cannot be identified precisely due to their rough shapes. Nonetheless, the theme does not seem to be biblical but rather derived from an (ancient) fable (maybe “The Wolf and the Crane”).
Of all four belfry windows only the eastern is divided by an old column. It´s capital (leave ornamentation) and base reveal an early Gothic age. Repair marks suggest, that this column has been installed somewhat later.
Well crafted masonry can also be found within the church. The sandstone ashlars of the triumph and apse arches show typical traces of flattening. The imposts were shaped in a late Romanesque profile. Those typical mason traces can also be found at the ashlars of the altar, suggesting a same age as the church. A large “table” stone – the mensa – caps the altar. A small hole in it´s centre, the sepulcrum, once contained relics but is now empty. Well crafted crosses are carved into both western corners of the mensa. In order to allow the priest enough ceremonial space behind the altar, the western corners of the mensa are rounded.
A small hole in the southern wall of the choire once contained liturgical vestments. The sacrament niche in the northern wall is framed by a keel arch and therefore from late Gothic times. Construction joints clearly show their later installation. It further crosses red wall paintings which shine through the whitewashing everywhere in the choir. These observations suggest a Medieval origin of the wall paintings. Of course, the apse had been finished with paintings, too, but they are lost since a complete new plastering of the apse took place in 1951.
The chalice-shaped font is standing in the nave. It is impressively large, since the pre-reformatory baptism ceremony regarded the complete emersion of the child. The basin has been filled in in later times and covered with a shallow metal dish. Although the font does not date back to the construction date of the church at about 1200 AD, it has probably been installed shortly after, i.e. about 50 years later.
A chest made of a single oak log adds to the medieval inventory of the church. This tree trunk has been reinforced with iron strapes for ornamentation and security reasons. It dates to the 13th ct. AD and may have already been carried into the church during the time of construction. The same could be suspected for the smaller of the two bronze bells where not only the shape but also a bracteate moulded on the outer skin of the bell suggest an origin around 1200 AD.
Gallery, pulpit and stalls have been constructed in the late 17th ct. They are unostentatious and fit therefore well into the plain building. A Baroque wooden superstructure for the altar which, as documented on photos, still existed in 1960 has completely gone missing. Noteworthy is further the organ upon the western gallery. It is an early and completely mechanical piece by the well-known manufactory Rühlmann of Zörbig, made in 1877.
The old age of the Sylbitz church has left it´s traces but the by far worse destructions happened during the period of vacancy and abandonment in the last decades. In order to not only stop the decay but also bring the building back to cultural and religious live the association “Förderverein Chorturmkirche Sylbitz e.V.” has been founded in 2001. Over the last ten years the association raised funds and arranged the reconstruction of the roof and the restoration of the organ. Meanwhile the church became again a place of social gatherings, weddings, baptisms, obsequies and services but also of concerts and art exhibitions.