Estonia’s Church Fund is raising donations to completely restore St Mary’s Church that was destroyed by the Soviet Red Army in 1941.
According to Urmas Viilma, the archbishop of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church, St Mary’s is of “major significance to all Estonians”. “It is considered the cradle of the Song Festival,” he said in a statement.
“The church we see today was completed and consecrated in 1842, and its congregation included prominent figures in the Estonian National Awakening – Johann Voldemar Jannsen, Lydia Koidula and Miina Härma. Parson Adalbert Hugo Willigerode was the chairman of the Song Festival committee, and Jannsen was one of its main organisers. The dress rehearsal for the first ever festival was held here on 17 June 1869, and its opening was proclaimed from the church tower to great fanfare the very next day,” Viilma added.
The church, in Estonia’s second largest town, Tartu, was destroyed in attacks by the retreating Red Army on 12 July 1941. A decade and a half later, its ruins were placed at the disposal of the Estonian Academy of Agriculture for the construction of a gymnasium.
From 1961-2009, the church was known as Tartu’s “sanctuary of sport”. It was here that some of the Tartu Kalev basketball team’s greatest players got their start and where Olympic gold medallists Jaan Talts and Jaak Uudmäe and silver medallist Rein Aun trained.
In the last decade, plans were made to restore the church. Thanks to donations and support by the town of Tartu, local entrepreneurs and private benefactors, the church’s tower has been reconstructed and the next major step is the restoration of the roof, which is likely to cost around a million euros.
“The construction work at the church is designed to restore it to its full glory so that the congregation can get their house of worship back,” Viilma noted.
The Church Fund, established in 2018 to raise donations in support of the renovation and restoration of Estonia’s Lutheran churches, now seeks to raise enough money to restore the St Mary’s Church’s roof – donations can be made on the fund’s website.