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Churches of Estonia

Gallery: Churches of Lääne-Viru County

by Peter Kessler, 10 August 2009

Part 1: Churches of Käsmu, Ilumäe, Vainupea, Haljala, & Väike-Maarja

Käsmu Church

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.

Käsmu Church

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

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.

Ilumäe Chapel

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

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.

St John's Chapel

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.

Church of St Maurice

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.

Church of St Maurice

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.

Väike-Maarja church in Estonia

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.

Väike-Maarja kirik Eestis

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 kindly contributed by K Kimmel.



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