There are very few villages without a church and most towns and cities have several. Most Estonian churches were built by Baltic Germans and Lutheran is the predominant religion here. These days, churches are open for weekly sermons on Sundays and are often used as venues both religious and non-religious concerts.
Niguliste church in Tallinn Old Town is one of the places to visit for those interested in the artistic aspects of Lutheran history. Niguliste church works as a museum and is known for the famous “Death Dance” painting by Bernt Notke (c1470 AD). Over the centuries the original painting has been damaged greatly and only a 7.5 metres length is still left. It is the most valuable art object in Estonia.
Czarist Russians also made efforts to popularise the Orthodox Church and built Nevsky Cathedral in Toompea, the highest point in Tallinn’s Old Town. It is a popular tourist attraction with it’s golden “onion style rooftops” and dark, glamorous interior.
At the Russian border near Narva, in East Estonia, sits Kuremäe Monastery. It is the largest monastery in Estonia and the only Russian Orthodox one. Monastery premises are open for visitors: walk around in their beautiful floral gardens, admire traditional “hut-style” firewood stacks, try out the blessed “healing” water from the Kuremäe stream and visit their churches. Just make sure to cover your hair with a hat or a scarf if you are a woman, as free-flowing hair is a sign of disrespect.
There is a community of Old Believers, who split from the “modern” Russian Orthodox Church in the 17th century, living beside Peipsi Lake. As electricity is not allowed in this strictly religious community, Raja church is lit only by beeswax candles and is a beautiful sight during sermons. Villages by Peipsi Lake have evolved, following the old Russian tradition of having only one street – and thus, the shore of Peipsi Lake is one long street, one village turning organically into another. The best place to get the feeling of the Old Believers traditions is visit the extensive photo exhibition in Kasepää village’s former pharmacy, now the cultural centre AmbulARTtoorium. It’s free and opened “on demand” by the neighbour – just call the phone number on the door.
The only synagogue in Estonia opened 2007 in Tallinn. The pre-war one was torn down in the late 1940s. Before the Second World War there were Jewish communities in Tartu and Valga.
Estonian Muslim community is quite small and there is no mosque in Estonia. However, Muslims gather at a local worshipper's home in Kadriorg.
Pagan and Earth Believers have a strong community in Estonia and their festivals, camps and worship ceremonies are held throughout Estonia during the summer. However, for an outsider to take part in the rituals is quite difficult. Some are held in public in the Soomaa region, when one-log-boats are being expanded and during festivities. A one-log-boat is a traditional carved boat.
One of the more traditional gods in Estonian religion was called Taara (shortened version of Taarapita or Tharapita) and as Taara belief was strongest on islands, especially Viking-inhabited Saaremaa, there may be a connection to Scandinavian Viking god Thor. There are no Taaran churches but in every county there are ancient gravestones dating back to the time and in most regions, you will find a sacrificial tree or rock, which is believed to have mystical powers and where people used to offer animal sacrifices and gifts of food to Taara.
The following religious groups have websites: