Brateiu village is located on the left bank of Târnava Mare river, about 5 km east of Mediaş, on national road DN14. The bed of the river offered favourable living conditions, which is the premise of this area having been lived since oldest times. In 1959, on the first terrace of Târnava river, in the sand pit called “Zăvoi” situated at 1 km east of the village, there were discovered a necropolis dating from the Hallstatt age, Coţofeni-type ceramic fragments and incineration tombs belonging to a Daco-Roman community of the 4th – 5th centuries. The subsequent researches in that area identified three living stages, in the 4th – 7th centuries. In 1966, 90 incineration tombs and traces of a cabin were discovered in the same place. The cemetery in Brateiu, dating from 380-454 A.C. (most tombs belong to the 4th century), attests the existence of a population practicing an inhumation rite and ritual with analogies in the provincial-Roman world and with ties with the Roman civilisation (provincial-Roman ceramics, late imperial Roman coins). Over the last years, archaeological investigations have identified four distinct cemeteries, dating from the 4th – 10th centuries, which contain both incineration and inhumation tombs, and which launch the hypothesis that the local population found a “modus vivendi” with invading peoples.
Archaeological diggings identified in Transylvania a “Mediaş-type” funerary area comprising numerous bi-ritual cemeteries, both incineration and inhumation ones. They date mainly from the second half of the 7th century until the beginning of the 9th century and could belong to a Slavic population or to a population assimilated by the Roman majority. They are level cemeteries, with a large number of tombs (in Brateiu, the cemetery no. 2 with 239 tombs – 205 incineration tombs and 34 inhumation tombs – is three km east from the village, in the place named Rǎdaia). In all bi-ritual cemeteries, the incineration tombs are most frequent. The tomb of an Avar horseman was discovered in the necropolis no. 2, attesting that Avars militarily and economically controlled the region. A group of four Gepid tombs dating from the 5th century were also unearthed here.
The first information about the village dates from 1283, when Petru, bishop of Transylvania, concedes three parts of the tithe due to the cathedral chapter of Alba Iulia (consisting of wine, fruits, honey and lambs) by the parishes of eight localities in the cathedral chapter of Mediaş in exchange for 40 silver marks. There was no direct reference to the presence of Saxons in the cathedral chapter, but the names of the 8 parishes leave no doubt: Walter, dean of Alţâna, Johannes of Biertan, Henricus of Richiş, Petrus of Musna, Adam of Mediaş, Siffridus of Bratei (Monte Mariae), Henricus of Şaroş and Theodricus of Copşa Mare. The document reveals that Saxon settlements were not on royal soil, being just an ecclesiastical understanding between Saxon priests and the episcopate.
Monte Mariae derives from the church on the “mountain” dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Starting from that first church, from Latin “protodiaconus”, the German name became Pretai, the Saxon name - Pretoa, the Romanian one - Bratei, and the Hungarian one - Batárhely (the fier’s village).
The present church was constructed in the second half of the 14th century, as an early Gothic basilica, with three naves and extended choir, with polygonal apse and a western three-storeyed tower framed by the western spans of the collaterals. The Gothic elements prevail, but some late Roman elements still exist, such as the framing of the semi-circular arched window on the eastern side of the church.
There are several hypotheses regarding the history of this church. Müller suggests a first stage in the Roman period. In this context, noteworthy would be the trace of a stand at the upper floor of the bell tower. Hortwath admits two construction stages, both in the late Gothic period, while Roth considers that the construction and fortification of the choir were simultaneous. The fortification that took place in the 16th century completely changed the building; its southern portion became a church-hall by demolishing the separating wall between the southern collateral and the central nave, and by raising the outer wall of the collateral at t level of the nave.
The hall has a flat ceiling, and a stand was constructed in the northern collateral, at half height of the arcades linking the five burnishers in pointed arch. The northern lateral nave has pillars with various sections (as with the church in Moşna), but the placement of these pillars does not match the buttresses on the northern side; therefore we must accept the hypothesis that they were not designed and executed simultaneously.
The choir was raised by a fortified storey with ramparts and throwing openings, the walls of which support on the recessed arcades connecting the upper parts of the buttresses. On the occasion, the choir was supplied with a vault with penetrations, decorated with starred ribs. Eastward, the choir has a small-sized Gothic window, placed at the opening of a penetration, and southward – three large pointed-arch windows. The tabernacle bay, with no noticeable decorations, is on the northern wall; on the north-eastern wall there were discovered fragments of mural paintings, the most visible of them displaying the image of the Magi, and an ornamental band engraved with year 1481. The sacristy, which existed in the north of the choir, and the last span of the northern collateral, which flanked the bell tower, were demolished in order not to obstruct the northern vertical flanking. The sacristy was reconstructed in 1771, preserving the pointed-arch framing of the entrance.
The western bell tower also suffered important changes; observing an often-utilised formula, the ground floor was transformed into a semi-cylindrical vaulted portico, with ribs, which communicates with the three naves by pointed-arch arcades. The second storey of the tower communicated with the central nave, making up a stand with semi-circular arch opening. Originally, the third and fourth storeys made up a single high room, with a round window on the western façade. The fifth storey was the bell room, with a Gothic window with stone embrasures on each façade. The fortification of the western tower, its transformation into a last refuge resulted in the walling of all windows (their outlines are still perfectly visible, penetrated by throwing openings), in the closing of the pointed arcades at the ground floor previously used to communicate with the central nave and the collaterals, in the closing of the passage between the stand and the hall, and in the construction of the wood defence corridor, in console. The tower has a pyramidal pointed roof under which the bells are mounted.
The church has two portals; the main portal, richly outlined and placed on the western side, is not forward-placed. The colonettes have a capital frieze, frequently seen around 1400, although in Transylvania it could be noticed later as well, such as with the churches in Dârlos and Curciu, which were dated, due to the architectonic compound, later than the middle of the 15th century. The three-step embrasure is different on the two sides: in the south, it consists of three clusters of sticks in the shape of pear or cylindrical, and in the north – of rectangular-section sticks. The capital friezes are made up of vine leaves, and the pointed arch-vault is framed by a triangular ornamental fronton. This fronton lies on two consoles very similar in shape (a reverse pyramid with cleaved faces) from the end of the 15th century, but it is possible that these consoles were inserted later in their current place. The southern portal is protected by a vaulted portico, probably constructed in the 18th century. In fact, the whole compound suffered important repairs in the second half of the 18th century, most probably launched on the visit Emperor Iosif II paid to Brateiu in 1773, on his way to Mediaş – Sibiu.
The enclosure, with an irregular polygonal outline, was built in the first half of the 16th century, making best use of the steep northern slope that goes towards Târnava river. Westward, the defence was ensured by the high bell tower, while eastward and southward it was ensured by a two-storeyed bastion and, respectively, by a strong gate tower with four storeys. The curtain walls, which no longer have their original height or fortification elements, are supported by buttresses placed both outside and inside. The south-eastern wall and the bastion were demolished in order to construct there the school building. Instead, an access tunnel with a baroque fronton was built in front of the gate tower, which together with the vaulted room at the tower ground floor forms a “corridor” to entry the fortress. The gate tower, recessed as against the curtain wall, had a wood defence corridor, which was demolished. Nowadays, the first storey of the tower houses the village museum, which exhibits objects related to the history of the village, of the church or of the inhabitants’ life.