Kaarma Church of Saints Peter and Paul
The church of Kaarma parish, dedicated to St. Peter and St. Paul, was constructed across from Kaarma stronghold. It was built a little later than the Valjala church, possibly after the 1261 rebellion. Here we can see the constructional arangement which later became typical of the churches of the Osilia Bishophric - a simple nave with a slightly narrower choir. The steeple was added in the 15th century and thus Kaarma became the first church with a steeple on Saaremaa.
The church is built on unstable ground and during construction an accident seems to have occurred, and part of it seem to have collapsed. The nave did not acquire its present vaults until the 15th century. The relatively wide nave was divided into two aisles for safety purposes. The unsableness continues. To this day the steeple section of the building tends to lean away from the rest, and continual cracks develop in the walls between the two sections. Sometime prior to the 15th century reconstructions, a room with a fireplace was built above the vestry. This room could serve as a place of refuge for the colonizers from the angy natives of Saaremaa. Later, it became shelter for pilgrims who followed a route that included churches on the island of Gotland and Saaremaa.
The murals on the northern wall of the choir originate from the old church. They depict a painted illusionary window and a scene with St. Christopher. Unfortunately, only the legs seem to have survived. The proceedings were observed by a hermit carrying a lantern.
Many pieces of art have survived in Kaarma church. There is a medieval; baptismal font (13th century) and a wooden sculpture of St. Simon of Cyrene (mid-15th century) standing under the pulpit. It may be remembered that St. Simon was the passerby who was forced to help Christ carry His cross when he stumbled on the way to Golgotha. The pulpit, dating from 1645, is also worth noting. The present Neo-Gothic altarpiece depicts a painting by O. von Moeller of Christ on the Cross. The niches in the altar was formerly filled by medeival carvings of the apostles. These sculptures can now be seen in the Saaremaa Museum in Kuressaare.
View from the East - Kaarma church was built in an early Gothic style. However, the small round-arched vestry windows still display Romanesque features. The vestry is considered to be the oldest part of the church. The pointed-arch windows of the subsequently constructed choir are Gothic in style. The walls of the nave are of the same period. Details in the construction indicate that the upper story of the vestry was added later. Here, Karja church has served as a model, there are fireplaces in similar rooms in both churches. Most likely they were used to lodge pilgrims who came here via Gotland. In order to permit the use of the vestry's upper floor during services in the church, a separate outer entrance with a wooden staircase was built.
Interior - Of the old church, built in 1260, only the choir has retained its original appearance. It's vaulting is unique, similar to the vaulting in Valjala church. It may be assumed that the master builders who had worked in Valjala later came to construct the valuts in Kaarma. The nave of the church acquired its present appearance during the first half of the 15th century, when it was reconstructed into a two-aisle building. The slender eight-sided pillars, as well as the unique transverse arches, are evidence of the hand of Tallinn master builders.
Figures on the pillar - Two very primitively shaped men are depicted on the shaft of the central pillar of the nave. They represent the patron saints of the church, and are constructed in a peculiar rustic style which was widespread in northern Estonia during the late Gothic period. One of the figures holds a key, which identifies him as the apostle Peter. The sword in the hand of the other man is an attribute of the apostle Paul. Paul's sword has two meanings: when the blade is turned upwards, it refers to the apostle as the Warrior of Faith. The downward blade, on the other hand, represents the apostle's martrydom: as a citizen of Rome, he was not crucified but executed by sword.
Base reliefs - The reliefs decorating the bases of the pillars date from the 15th century. The middle relief depicts a man, armed with a sword, blowing a horn, and several animals that symbolize god and evil. Dogs and lions personify good, while a deer, a pig, a wolf and a fantastic creature with a horn growing out of its mouth represent evil. The scene probably depicts the so-called wild hunt - a popular theme in Nordic countries. It symbolizes the combat betwen good and evil in the world. In contrast, the base of the western pillar, decorated with a branch of a vine and two doves holding a redeemed human hart, represent Paradise. Thus, the two compositions depict the dualistic view of the medeival world and form a coherent whole. The plain, primitive style of the reliefs continues a tradition which originated in Padise Cloister and the Dominican Cloister in Tallinn.
The old triptych. The most important parts of the triptych are in the Kuressaare museum, but their origin is Kaarma church. The altarpiece was originally donated to Kaarma church in 1547. The central relief "The Coronation of the Virgin" has recently been restored and can be viewed in the chapel of the Kuressare castle museum. The figures of the 12 apostles that originally decorated the side panels of the altartpiece and the group of sculptures depicting the Last Judgement from the upper part of the altar, can also be seen in the museum. They are thought to be the work of the Calus Berg workshop in Lubeck. At present, only the shrine of the altar is in the church.
Coats of arms on the pillars - Apart from the bas-reliefs and the figures of the patron saints of the church, the pillars are also decorated by two coats of arms which belong to families who may have been benefactors of the church. On the central pillar between the two apostels is the coat-of-arms of von Poll and the one emblazoned with a bear on the western pillar must have belonged to von Behr.
The pulpit - Estonian churches are generally rich in carved Baroque altars and pulpits. Only in Saaremaa are they sparser. The pulpit of Kaarma church, the work of master Jakob Jakobson in 1645, is a rare exception. It is also exceptional in design. Normally, the parapet is adorned with a single sculpture. Here, however, it is decorated with reliefs depicting scenes from the life of Christ (His baptism, Christ in Gethsemane, the Crucifixtion, the Resurrection, the descent of the Holy Spirit). The master had used the pulpit in Lubeck Cathedral (1568) as his model. This explains the surprisingly late Renaissance forms of the reliefs. The sculptures have been painted white in imitation of the alabaster reliefs on the Lubeck pulpit. The wooden sculpture under the pulpit represents St. Simon of Cyrene who helped Christ carry His cross. He is the remaining part of a group that also included Christ carrying the cross. The cross was placed where St. Simon now carries a book. The staff is also a later addition. The sculpture dates from around 1450; however, the coat of paint dates from 1778.