Archeologists explore Saastna chapel near Matsalu Bay

For the second successive summer, archaeologists have been exploring the ruins of the Saastna chapel near Matsalu Bay. In its day, the chapel was widely known in the Baltic Sea region, with people from Gotland and Courland also traveling there.

While Saastna, which is located near Estonia's Matsalu Bay, is now part of the mainland due to the movement of tectonic plates, in the Middle Ages it was an island.

It is not yet known when the chapel dedicated to Saint Olav was built there, with the earliest finds from the chapel dating back to the 15th century.

However, it is not possible to be sure about the exactly when the building itself was constructed. According to archaeologist Anton Pärn, the chapel, which measures six by 16 meters, is very large considering its location in Saastna.

"Looking at this islet and considering that only 13 families lived here in the 16th century, we can definitely say that this chapel had a much bigger significance, than just for serving the local people," said Pärn.

The chapel is dedicated to Saint Olav, suggesting that there is likely to be a connection with seafarers from Scandinavia. Archaeologist Heiki Valk said that Saastna's location along the former international sea route probably provided a boost to the chapel's reputation. Both written sources and coins found at the site indicate that coins were given as offerings here.

This practice continued until two hundred years after the Reformation, by which time the chapel was already in ruins.

"Based on reports from Gotland, there have been visits to the church here. People have also come here from Kurama, Saaremaa and all over," said Valk.

Archaeologist Anton Pärn said that there may even be earlier remains hidden under the medieval stone chapel, though it still needs to be explored.

"We initially thought that there was only the stone chapel here, but have now seen some signs that there may have been a log or wooden building underneath it," said Pärn.

The work in Saastna is part of the project "From Nidaros to Novgorod: Cultures Along the Historic St Olav Route," which examines the Nordic-Baltic trade system in the period between the Viking Age and the domination of the Hanseatic League.

The project is supported by the Norwegian state and managed by Tallinn University, whose partners include the University of Tartu and the Foundation of Haapsalu and Läänemaa Museums.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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