Haljala Church renovation work reveals unique wall niches

Three unique wall niches have been found in a Lääne-Viru County church, during the course of renovation work, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported Tuesday. The niches, built into the exterior walls, would most likely once have been used to contain statues of saints.

"The church tower was built at the end of the Catholic era, in the last quarter of the 15th century," Urmas Karileet, a pastor at Haljala Church, in the Lääne-Viru County town of the same name, told AK, referring to the years just prior to churches in Estonia switching mostly to a Lutheran polity, as was the case in much of Northern Europe at the time.

"There may have been statues of saints [placed in the niches], but we don't know which ones," Karileet went on.

"The discovery came as a major surprise. For several hundred years they had been walled up under the plaster. But as they say, you have to take the rough with the smooth. Since that plaster was in such a bad condition, traces of a triangular niche roof could be seen, so we commissioned a restorer to examine them," he added.

The three side-by-side niches are located inside the western outer wall of the Haljala Church and were likely covered over during the iconoclasm that was to be found at the time of the Reformation.

No similar examples are known in any other church in Estonia.

One niche was about 11 meters off the ground, and its discovery was followed by two more of different sizes (see gallery above).

Fragments of wood found in the crevices were likely used to fasten heavy items, such as a statue, in the niche. Martin Kärner, project manager at OMA Fassaad OÜ, conducting the work, said.

"What exactly they were, nobody knows, it's a question of investigation," he went on.

The find is not the first of interest at Haljala Church; noted art historian and restorer Villem Raam (1910-1996) had already made some interesting discoveries as far back as the 1950s.

Mirjam Abel, advisor at the Heritage Protection Board (Muinsuskaitseamet) in Lääne-Viru County, said "Up until now, and in a good way, these finds don't seem to have an end. It's always nice that something also remains for future generations to discover."

Renovation work on the church started back in 2019 and is due to be completed next year at a cost of over €1.1 million, supported by a combination of state and local government funding, private donations and the Baltic knighthoods union (Balti rüütelkondade liit).


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

Source: 'Aktuaalne kaamera', reporter Rene Kundla.

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