Medieval churches in Estonia

Pärnu-Jaagupi Church

Pärnu-Jaagupi Church is the youngest Gothic church in Estonia. It was made of stone between 1531 and 1534 to replace the earlier wooden church. The pulpit is from the Baroque era and the altar was built in 1794. In the graveyard is the tomb of local noble family von Nassackins.
Founded: 1531-1534 | Location: Pärnu-Jaagupi, Estonia

St. Mary's Church

The current building of Pöide Church is believed to be built on the remains of a chapel built in 13th century. After the conquest of Saaremaa in 1227, the eastern part of Saaremaa belonged to the Livonian Order, who built a fortress at Pöide as their headquarters during the second half of the 13th century. This fortress was destroyed by the Saaremaa natives during the wave of uprisings against the occupying forc ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Saaremaa, Estonia

Vormsi Church

According the legend the church of St. Olav in Vormsi was originally built in 1219 in the guidance of Valdemar II, the King of Denmark. Although, the oldest parts of the church has been dated to the year 1400 (approximately). It has been renovated and reconstructed several times, at least in 1632, 1772 and 1929. The St. Olav’s church is unique for the fact that it has no belfry; the bell hangs above the door under t ...
Founded: ca. 1400 | Location: Vormsi, Estonia

Karja Church

The towerless Gothic style church of St. Catherine in Karja is the smallest church in Saaremaa island. The church was built in the late 13th or early 14th century. Although small, it is the one of the most beautiful churches in Saaremaa. The architectural design of the church is simple: a two bayed nave, a choir and a vestry. It is the sculptural decor that makes the church a real jewel. Its portals, bosses and vaulting s ...
Founded: 13-14th century | Location: Saaremaa, Estonia

Kaarma Church

The medieval church of Saint Peter and Paul in Kaarma is one of the most interesting sights in Saaremaa island. The building was probably started right after the uprising of Saaremaa inhabitants in 1261. It was a typical church of the Osilia Bishophric - a simple nave with a slightly narrower choir. The steeple was added in the 15th century and thus Kaarma became the first church with a steeple on Saaremaa. The church is ...
Founded: ca. 1261 | Location: Saaremaa, Estonia

St John's Church

The St John’s (Jaani) Church of Haapsalu was built during the restless reformation years during the early part of the 16th century (first mentioned in 1524), and initially it was dedicated to St Nicholas. The church is exceptionally laid out in a north-south bearing. The basement of the church was an ancient storage house. The church has a beautiful stone altar (17th century), a wooden pulpit (18th century) and one ...
Founded: 1524 | Location: Haapsalu, Estonia

Koeru Church

Koeru Church is one of the oldest medieval churches in Järvamaa with a beautiful Baroque tower. The church was built probably in the mid-13th century and expanded to the three-nave form aroud 1300. The church was damaged badly in Livonian Wars and again in Great Northern War. It was mainly reconstructed in 1721. The present 43m high tower was built in the end of 18th century. The pulpit, altarpiece and crucifix in t ...
Founded: ca. 1250 | Location: Koeru, Estonia

Kihelkonna Church

The building of St. Michael’s church in Kihelkonna was probably started in the mid-13th century and completed between 1270-1290. In the early Middle Ages Kihelkonna was one of the most important centers in Saaremaa. It was situated on the road connecting the western part of Saaremaa with mainland Estonia. There was also a harbor of considerable importance here. Both the Bishop and the Livonian Order contributed to t ...
Founded: ca. 1250-1290 | Location: Saaremaa, Estonia

Väike-Maarja Church

Väike-Maarja church was built on top of a chapel. It was first mentioned in 1346, main construction works took place in the 1370s. The church has relatively thick walls: 2,4 m in average, also had two embrasures near the western tower. There are also German and Estonian chapels, built in 1770 and in the beginning of the 19th century.
Founded: 1370's | Location: Väike-Maarja, Estonia

Halliste Church

The church of St. Anna in Halliste was built probably in the late 15th century. It was almost destroyed by fire in 1959. The reconstruction was made in 1989 by the local community during the Soviet perestroika period. Reference: Tapio Mäkeläinen 2005. Viro - kartanoiden, kirkkojen ja kukkaketojen maa. Tammi, Helsinki, Finland.
Founded: 15th century | Location: Halliste, Estonia

Vigala Church

The first mention of the church in Vigala dates back to 1339. It was built by Uexkülls, the oldest noble family of Livonia. The old church was a slate building with high gables. The choir was vaulted and a free-standing tower was erected in the 15th century. Due to the suboptimal loamy ground new towers had to be erected repeatedly. The architect Alar Kotli designed the bell tower to commemorate those who have lost ...
Founded: 1339 | Location: Vigala, Estonia

Rõngu Church

The medieval church of Mihkli (St. Michael) was built probably in the end of 14th century. It was mainly destroyed in several wars until the restoration began in the 19th century. The wooden bell tower was built in 1863 and the church was restored to the neo-Gothic appearance in 1901 using medieval walls.
Founded: 14th century | Location: Rõngu, Estonia

Nõo Church

The medieval church of St. Lawrence in Nõö is one of the oldest brick churches in Estonia. The oldest parts were constructed in the mid-13th century. The exterior has been modified at least in 15th and 19th centuries. The wooden tower was erected in 1819.
Founded: 1250's | Location: Nõo, Estonia

Noarootsi Church

Noarootsi church is the youngest fortification church in Estonia, built around 1500. It served the congregation of Swedes living on Estonia coast, but also held a defence function. Currently, it is one of the three churches in Estonia with plank roof. Most interesting artefacts inside the church are the baptising stone, baroque pulpit, limestone baroque epitaph to Minister Martin Winter. Reference: Histrodamus
Founded: 1500 | Location: Noarootsi, Estonia

Pühalepa Church

The Pühalepa Church is Hiiumaa’s oldest stone church. In 1255, the German Order started the construction of a stone fortress-church. Initially lacking a steeple, the arched stone church was completed in the 14th century, but the construction of the steeple was not started until 1770. During the Livonian war (16th century) the Pühalepa church was plundered, but it was restored again at the beginning of the 17th centur ...
Founded: 1255 | Location: Hiiumaa, Estonia

Haljala Church

Haljala church was built originally between 1430-1440, replacing a wooden church from the previous century. The octogonal tower was completed in the end of 15th century. Haljala church was damaged in 1558 during the Livonian war and in 1703 during the Great Northern War when it was burnt down by Russian troops. In 1831 it was damaged again when the tower and roof burnt down. The tower was rebuilt in 1865 at which time it ...
Founded: 15th century | Location: Haljala, Estonia

Valjala Church

Saint Martin's Church of Valjala is the oldest church in Estonia. Immediately after the conquest of 1227, a stone chapel was erected by Teutonic knights in Valjala not far from the ancient stronghold. Its walls form the lower part of the present church choir. On the southern side of the chapel, there was a vestry. Soon after completion, the chapel was decorated with murals, the remaining fragments of which may be see ...
Founded: 1227 | Location: Saaremaa, Estonia

Kolga-Jaani Church

The rural church of Kolga-Jaani was evidently built during the last quarter of the 14th century, under the direction of a master craftsman from Tallinn. It was damaged in the Great Northern War and left in ruins for a long period. The 45-meter high steeple was erected in the reconstruction in 1875. The most significant artefact inside the church is a cruficix made probably around the yer 1380. Between 1890-1917, the man ...
Founded: 14th century | Location: Kolga-Jaani, Estonia

Karuse Church

Karuse church is one of the oldest sacral buildings in Läänemaa – it was built in the 1260s as a fortress-church for the Livonian Order. According the legend Otto von Lutterberg, a Master of the Livonian Order, has been buried in the church. He fell in a battle against Lithuanians, fought on sea ice near the church. Inside the church you should pay attention to the Baroque-style pulpit and altar. When wal ...
Founded: 1260's | Location: Hanila, Estonia

Harju-Madise Church

The first sanctuary on the site was a small wooden construction that was replaced by a stone construction in the 15th century. Because of the unique position on a high shore the church tower was also used as a lighthouse. The present appearance is mostly from 1500-1700’s. During reconstruction work in 1760-80, the choir, vestry and tower were added to the original building. In middle of nineteenth century the Bal ...
Founded: 15th century | Location: Padise, Estonia

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Sweetheart Abbey

Sweetheart Abbey was a Cistercian monastery, founded in 1275 by Dervorguilla of Galloway in memory of her husband John de Balliol. His embalmed heart, in a casket of ivory and silver, was buried alongside her when she died; the monks at the Abbey then renamed the Abbey in tribute to her. Their son, also John, became king of Scotland but his reign was tragic and short. The depredations suffered by the Abbey in subsequent periods, have caused both the graves to be lost. The abbey, built in deep-red, local sandstone, was founded as a daughter house to Dundrennan Abbey; this Novum Monasterium (New Monastery), became known as the New Abbey.

The immediate abbey precincts extended to 120,000 m2 and sections of the surrounding wall can still be seen today. The Cistercian order, also known as the White Monks because of the white habit, over which they wore a black scapular or apron, built many great abbeys after their establishment around 1100. Like many of their abbeys, the New Abbey's interests lay not only in prayer and contemplation but in the farming and commercial activity of the area, making it the centre of local life. The abbey ruins dominate the skyline today and one can only imagine how it and the monks would have dominated early medieval life as farmers, agriculturalists, horse and cattle breeders. Surrounded by rich and fertile grazing and arable land, they became increasingly expert and systematic in their farming and breeding methods. Like all Cistercian abbeys, they made their mark, not only on the religious life of the district but on the ways of local farmers and influenced agriculture in the surrounding areas.

The village which stands next to the ruins today, is now known as New Abbey. At the other end of the main street is Monksmill, a corn mill. Although the present buildings date from the late eighteenth century, there was an earlier mill built by and for the monks of the abbey which serviced the surrounding farms.