Kihelkonna St. Michael's church

The belltower and church - An eye-catching feature of the church of Kihelkonna is its slender western tower. This, however, is only a later addition to the church and dates from 1897-1899. The church itself is one of the oldest on the island.

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 the construction of the church, which was begun in the middle of the 13th century. Initially, a fortified western tower, as wide as the nave, had been planned but its construction was interrupted, apparently in its early stages, by the revolt of 1260-1261.

Subsequently, the Bishop handed responsibility for the construction of the church over to the Order. When construction started again, the plans to build a tower were abandoned. The church, completed in the 1260's, together with the Valjala church, represent the Westphalian tradition. Here too, the loft could be used as a refuge in case of danger. A staircase, the foot of which is well above floor level, led up to the refuge.

Nothing has survived of the medieval furnishings of the church. However, there are several more recent pieces of art here. The altarpiece (1591) and the pulpit (1604) are among the oldest of their kind in Estonia. Also worthy of mention is the organ, which was made in 1805 by J.A. Stein. It was reconstructed in 1890 by F. Weisseborn from Jekabpils in Latvia. In 1638 a stone campanile was built near the church.

The interior - Inside the church, the visitor is immediately struck by the high dome-like rib vaults with carved bosses. Their forms lead us to suppose that the builders who worked in Valjala also vaulted the church of Kihelkonna.

The campanile - The tradition of campaniles - free standing bell towers - goes back to early Christian times. According to historical records, the tradition of such bell towers became widespread in Estonia in the 17th and 18th centuries. In the l940's there were still two campaniles in Saaremaa. Since the demolition of the Karla campanile, the only one remaining is that of the Kihelkonna church, built in 1638.

An epitaph - The inscription on the epitaph says that it was made by Balthasar Raschky in 1650. Raschky was a superb carpenter. Here he has demonstrated his skill in carving - two herm pilasters flank the epitaph. The motif and the decor were both very popular during the Renaissance period.

The altarpiece - After the Reformation, decorated altarpieces became popular in Estonia. The oldest of these is the altarpiece here in Kihelkonna church, which dates back to the year 1591. The central panel of this Renaissance piece, painted by an anonymous artist, pictures the Last Supper - a motif that became the predominant theme on altars during the 17th century. Characteristic of the times, the side panels are covered in long, moralizing texts in Latin and Low German.