If someone would take a map of Saare County and mark all reli- gious buildings with pins, the result would be an amazingly dense ‘hedgehog’. They would need at least 60 pins.
Obviously, the list would start with the famous classics – seven medieval churches. They would be followed by Lutheran churches of the modern period, 17 Orthodox churches, almost two dozen prayer hou- ses, winter churches at pastorates, plus a stronghold chapel, ruins of a medieval chapel, and even a monastery. The age difference between the oldest and youngest structure in this collection – which would be almost like a textbook of architectural history, extending from Romanesque style to postmodernism – is roughly seven and a half centuries. It includes High Gothic and peasant architecture, timber and stone, functioning and abandoned buildings, ruins and restorations, imposing landmarks and hidden treasures. A collection this diverse cannot be found anywhere else in Estonia.
Lümanda and Mõnnuste. The year 1873 marked the peak of a frantic period of church building – in a matter of only a couple of years, new churches with unprecedented cupolas and multiple small spires were erected in Tornimäe, Kahtla, Ööriku, Leisi, Piila, Reomäe, Mustjala, Tiirimetsa, Torgu and in Rinsi on the Muhu island. The churches were based on two standard designs, with the exception of the church of Tornimäe that is architecturally more imposing due to its location on the landscape.
There are 17 Orthodox churches in total in Muhu and Saaremaa, includ- ing three in ruins. In addition to stone churches, there is a notable wooden church in Metsküla that was completed in 1915 and was the last Orthodox church built during the period of the Russian Empire.
The spiritual awakening that swept over Western Estonia at the end of the 19th century resulted in the birth of several smaller religious movements. Most of their meeting houses were scan- tily furnished simple wooden buildings that resembled peasant homes. At the peak of the movement, there were at least 40 meeting houses in Saaremaa, plus many prayer rooms.
A score of them have been preserved, with the Koplimetsa prayer house of 1879 being the oldest. The building that belonged to the Moravian Brethren is now diligently restored and lives a second life as the visitor centre of the Lümanda Lime Park.
Most of the meeting houses were built in the 1920s and 1930s. An interesting architectural example is the Lutheran chapel of Tiirimetsa, with its urbanistic ribbon windows indicating that the functionalist style had found its way to the junipers of Saaremaa.
Finally, to complete the circle in a sense, there is the Zion Church of Kuressaare, built in 1993. Architect Priit Kaljapulk was inspired by the Middle Ages and opted for one of the most impressive historical forms of sacral spaces – the basilica. Enriched with postmodern details, the result is one of the most notable objects of religious architecture of the current period.
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