Baltic Germans built most of the country’s churches. Up until the 19th century, the church was the only source of education in the countryside and few villages are without an architecturally impressive church at its centre.
In the decades before they were overthrown in 1917, the Czarist Russians made great efforts to popularise the Russian Orthodox Church. The building of the impressive Nevsky Cathedral literally on top of Tallinn, shows how they hoped to dominate Estonia.
There were plans in the 1920s to demolish the Nevsky Cathedral (something similar had happened in Poland) but fortunately this was never carried out.
The Orthodox community in Estonia today is split between Moscow and Estonian (belongs under Greek) Orthodox churches.
The communities of Old Believers who live beside Lake Peipsi date from the split in the Russian Orthodox Church in the 17th century. They were banished there and have stayed ever since. Visit their church at Raja which is lit only by beeswax candles as they don’t believe in the use of electricity.
A new synagogue opened in Tallinn in 2007. The pre-World War 2 one had been where the Kaubamaja Department Store is now situated. It was torn down in the late 1940s. Before the war there were also Jewish communities in Tartu and Valga.
Short of a total ban, the Soviets did everything possible to discourage religious activity during their occupation of Estonia. Open believers were banned from most senior jobs.
Services are held in English every Sunday in the Lutheran Holy Ghost Church in Tallinn.
For visiting churches around Estonia, make sure you get hold of the booklet “Wayfarers Churches” which gives a brief description of 200 churches around Estonia, with details of their opening hours.
Each of the main religious groups has a website with further information on services and their work.
The best place to see old wooden churches is on Saaremaa Island.