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Gallery: Churches of Lääne-Viru County
by Peter Kessler, 10 August 2009
Part 1: Churches of Käsmu, Ilumäe, Vainupea, Haljala,
Käsmu Church (Käsmu kirik in Estonian) is in
the small coastal village of the same name in Lääne-Viru County,
north-eastern Estonia. The village was an outlying region of the historical
parish of Haljala in Wierland County (modern Viru) and is now within
the Lahemaa National Park, seventy-five kilometres east of Tallinn. Käsmu's
first historical mention comes from 1453 and it has always been noted
for its high concentration of sailors, in a region where the soil is
hard to farm.
The small wooden church was built in 1864 at Lääne
tee 4, and contains a beautifully-designed organ by Johann Andreas
Stein, which may be the oldest of its kind in the Baltics. During
the Soviet period, the village was one of the restricted border
areas, and was sealed off to outsiders. The church itself is part of
the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Estonia, and should not be
confused with the nearby Käsmu stone chapel.
Ilumäe Chapel (or 'kabel' in Estonian) is
about eight kilometres (five miles) south of Käsmu, on the estate
of Palmse Manor, which was owned by the von Pahlen family. The chapel
was built by Governor-General Karl Magnus von Pahlen. It replaced an
older wooden chapel on the same spot. All that survived of this building
was an Early Classical altar with wood-carvings, and stained glass
paintings of the family coat of arms, created by local craftsmen in 1729.
The stained glass originals are now in Rakvere
Museum, with copies in the chapel. The altar is in Lüganuse Church.
Construction of the stone chapel took place between 1841-1843 in the
Late Classical style, and a segregated section of the old cemetery
contains the von Pahlen family burials. The chapel was one of many
improvements carried out on Palmse manor at this time. The church
is now in a fairly bad condition inside, with fungus having made its
way into the walls.
St John's Chapel (Jaani kabel) can be found
in the small seaside village of Vainupea on the north-east coast of
Estonia. Unsurprisingly for a village which in 2000 had a population
of twenty-two, the original wooden chapel was only built on the site in
1741. In 1888 a stone bell tower was added, but it was not until 1891-1893
that the old wooden church was dismantled and the present stone nave was
built in its place and was connected to the existing bell tower.
One burial of note in the churchyard is that of
Estonian artist Richard Sagrits (1910-1968), who was responsible for
the ceiling painting in the Estonian National Opera, which he created
in the Socialist Realism style. The chapel was restored in 1989 to
provide supplementary services to St Maurice in Haljala (below), around
fifteen kilometres (ten miles) due south. It also hosts musical concerts,
notably the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir in 2003.
The Church of St Maurice (Mauritiuse
kirik) is in Haljala, to the north-west of Rakvere. Surrounded by
trees, the churchyard rests in the middle of the town. Construction
was probably started in the second quarter of the fifteenth century,
and since the town was situated at the meeting point of the main
highways between Tallinn and Narva, and Rakvere to Toolse, the church
probably played an important defensive function, as proved by the
shooting holes in its structure.
The tower was added in the sixteenth century,
designed primarily as a guard tower complete with firing positions.
Any Russian invaders would pass by here on their way to Tallinn, so
to prevent the enemy from being able to shoot into the church, the
main entrance was unusually located on the southern side of the
tower and not its western side. By the year 2000, the parish of Haljala
had a population of just 2,858 over an area of 183 square kilometres.
St Mary's Church lies in Väike-Maarja
(Little Maria), which is a small town in the south of the county,
close to Kiltsi Manor, and which is the parish 'capital'. The church
is the oldest building in the town, although sources vary on when it
was built. There may have been a chapel here in 1346 when
worship first began, and the church itself could have been added
between 1375-1380. Typically for the era in which it was built, it
provided twin functions, the second being a stronghold.
The walls are 3.3 metres thick, with
shooting chambers in the western wall on each side of the tower, and
loopholes in the upper floors of the tower. Its three-aisled nave,
square choir, and sacristy have all survived virtually unchanged,
although a neo-Gothic spire was added in 1873. It lies beside a
large cemetery which contain many burials of the former Baltic
German lords dating back to the eighteenth century, in graves close
to the church and marked with iron crosses.
Eight photos on this page contributed by K