Role in Hosting National Christmas Service Further Raises Interest in Country Church ({{commentsTotal}})

The Estonian Council of Churches decided that this year's live broadcast of a Christmas Day church service will take place from Risti Church, a 700-year-old sacral building in western Harju County, putting the church even more on the map for the public.

Besides what the Evangelical Lutheran Church described in its announcement last week as its youthful members and growing congregation, Risti has been in the news for a hoard of coins and other silver found underneath the floorboards during renovation.

The church was founded by monks from Padise monastery around the turn of the 13th and 14th century. It is thought possible that the cellar found during renovations in recent years was one end of a secret passage leading to the monastery.

There are also ceiling paintings, painted after the Livonian War.

"Another exciting thing that no other church in Estonia of this type has to my knowledge is the hearth that was once here. So the pastor in the old days might have had this cozy, pleasant reception area for people coming to confession," said the current pastor, Annika Laats.

Risti's churchyard is also known for having one of only three War of Independence memorials in the country to survive the Soviet occupation unscathed.

Tourism has increased in the last 12 months, but as the church isn't a museum, this is a challenge.

"It isn't easy if you have a medieval church full of all kinds of exciting discoveries. It is easy if it's a museum, but here there is a living congregation," Laats said, "with 269 donating members and youth evenings. It's hard to keep it all going."

The next big logistical challenge will be on December 25, when ETV's camera crew sets up and senior officials will be seated in the front pews. The homily will be delivered by pastor Laats as usual, but there will be a larger supporting cast, so to speak, including more musicians taking part.