Vormsi ST OlaF's Church

Church history

Although Vormsi is first mentioned in historical documents only in 1391, the oldest part of the present Vormsi church, the medieval altar room, was built as early as about 1270, at the same time as Haapsalu Cathedral. This is indicated by a number of construction techniques and details that were in use at that time. However, it has not been the oldest construction stage of Vormsi Church. Probably the earliest church was built of wood and was located above the current long building. This was evidenced by the rows of stones that could be seen during the 1989 renovation work under the old floor of the church and which had been used as the foundation of the wooden church. It is still unknown when this wooden church was built. According to the tradition written in the church visitation document of 1596, the founder of St. Olaf's Church in Vormsi was the King of Denmark. The only Danish king who was in Estonia during those distant times was Valdemar II, when he went on a crusade under the future Tallinn in 1219. This year can be considered the year of construction of the oldest wooden church. 

A beautiful medieval vaulted altar room was built next to this original wooden church around 1270. During the last restoration works, medieval vault paintings, which are unique in Estonia, were cleaned. Four ribbons emerge from the solar cross at the top of the vault, ending in a lotus race. The vaulted hedges show star motifs, large lily flowers and vine branches. The paintings refer to the altar room as a symbol of paradise. This style of design testifies to the connection with Gotland. 

There is a small window in the southern wall of the altar room called the peephole. Through it, those who were not allowed to enter the church - those with infectious diseases (ie lepers) or those who had been expelled from the congregation - took part in the Mass. At the time when the church was closed, pilgrims could also see it through it. 

The altar room also contains a copy of the medieval (2nd half of the 14th century) wooden sculpture "Virgin Mary in the child's bed", the original of which was taken to Sweden in 1944. At present, these Vormsi church assets have been deposited in the museum of the Swedish-Michael Church in Tallinn. 

After the completion of the choir room until the Livonian War, the church looked quite strange in today's terms: the west side was a relatively narrow and lower log building and the east side was a higher stone altar room. However, there was nothing extraordinary about it at the time: many medieval churches by the Baltic Sea were built in this way and in this order.

During the Livonian War in the winter of 1575, the Russian tsar's troops looted the island of Vormsi over the frozen sea. Probably just then, the old log building of the church was destroyed. Balthasar Russow talks about this looting expedition in his "Livonian Chronicle".

For half a century after the war and the plague, there was probably only a looted altar room left of the church. It took time to recover from the effects of the devastating war.

The new long building of the church was completed in 1632, and with it the sanctuary got its surviving shape. As the walls of the new nave were somewhat thinner than the medieval choir builders had thought, some of the stones used to tie the nave wall were left out of the church's outer wall and are still visible today.

In 1660, Söderby landlord Hartman Weber and his wife Catharina von Kurseln donated a pulpit to the church, which was made by Tallinn master Elert Thiele. The four pulpits depict Christ, Moses, John and Matthew. The fifth, which was lost during the transfer to Sweden in 1944, depicted Peter. The church houses a copy of the chancellery made in 1990 (the remaining 4 plaques of the original have been deposited in the museum of the Swedish St Michael's Church in Tallinn).

In 1667. Magnus Gabriel De la Gardie, the landowner of Magnushof, and his wife  Countess Maria Eufrosyne von Zweibrücken of Pfalz, donated a new altar to the church of Vormsi. The altar is of the Baroque style and was made by master George Baselaque. The altar was demolished after the war, and a small wooden sculpture of an angel has survived to this day. 

Major renovations were carried out in the church in 1772 and 1829. The names and years of the masters on the window frames have also been preserved since the reconstruction of the window openings. 

In 1929 the church received a new tin roof instead of the previous tarred table roof.

The ensuing World War II also left a deep mark on the history of Vormsi island. The natives of Vormsi left the island. The people who settled on the island after the war, who were also predominantly Lutheran, wanted to continue the church and worship in the church. The Soviet occupation authorities did not allow the church to continue. In the following years, the church was therefore left unattended and looted. During the collective farm, the church was occasionally used as a storehouse for grain, hay and potatoes. At that time, the historical pastorate of Vormsi was also destroyed.

Again, almost half a century passed before the church could be restored. In the summer of 1988, the local Christians of Vormsi began the restoration of the church. Assistance for this was received from the local authorities of Lääne County and also from former Vormsi residents in Sweden. Donations and help for this work came from thousands of people from Estonia, Sweden and Finland.

The restored church was rededicated on St. Olaf's day, July 29, 1990. The congregation of St. Olaf in Vormsi was restored in 1989.

Vormsi pastors

Johannes Duuell 1539
Kersten 1543-1567
Sigfrid 1567
Herman Erkenstamm 1576
Magnus Blomer 1586
Sigfrid Georgii Forsius 1593-1596
Johannes Henrici Schäffer 1610-1636
Jonas Stephan Mystadius 1638-1688
Peter Herlin 1680-1688
Georg Johan Gillaeus 1689-1695
Laurentius Malm 1695-1710
Johan Nygren 1710-1711
Laurentius Naezenius 1712-1717
Mattias Hysing 1717-1735
Andreas Hollming 1736-1769
Johan Matthias Orning 1769-1805
Nicolaus Nils Malmgren 1805-1829
William Alexander Nordgren 1830-1858
Jacob Eduard Petersen 1859-1868
Alexander Wilhelm Lyra 1869
Julius Alexander Nordgren 1869-1902
Veinö Melin 1902-1917
John August Klasson 1921-1929
Karl Nikolaus Nilsson 1929-1934
Hjalmar Pöhl 1934-1944
Ivar Pöhl 1937-1944
Tiit Salumäe (caretaker pastor 1989-2017)
Ants Rajando 1992-   (1992-2017 deacon)