Estonia's Christianization-era baptism bowls named find of the year

Hanseatic bowls discovered by the clubs Kamerad and Vironia, local history researchers and enthusiasts.
Hanseatic bowls discovered by the clubs Kamerad and Vironia, local history researchers and enthusiasts. Source: ERR

Two local history clubs searched together for the site of the Battle of Wesenberg (Rakvere) from 1268, but found a collection of copper baptismal bowls. The treasure, which was discovered by searchers from Ida-Viru County, was recognized as the archaeological find of the year.

Last week, Tallinn hosted the annual award ceremony for historic heritage preservation. The copper baptismal bowls discovered by a joint search effort of two organizations of local history researchers and enthusiasts from Ida-Viru County, Kamerad and Vironia, have been called one of the year's most remarkable finds.

"This project was organized by Kamerad and, for the first time, we were joined by our friends and colleagues from Vironia," Dmitri Shutov, the club's leader, said.

During the excavations, Igor Letitski, the head of the Vironia search club, was fortunate to discover the treasure trove.

"We discovered 23 bowls, eight of which have unique ornamentation and designs that have not been seen before: there are warriors, soldiers, a man with a sword fighting a siren," archeologist Ain Mäesalu detailed the find.

As is often the case in archaeological projects, you are seeking for one thing and discovered another. Initially, the search club Kamerad looked for a site where the Battle of Wesenberg (Rakvere or Rakovor) was fought on February 18, 1268. The fight took place between the combined forces of Danish Estonia, the Bishopric of Dorpat (Tartu), the Livonian Order and local Estonian militias on one side, and the forces of Novgorod and Pskov, led by Dmitry of Pereslavl on the other.

"We have been working on this initiative since 2015 and during the search we have discovered several important finds and treasures, but we have not been able to locate the battle site. But that's a positive thing because it gives us motivation to continue," Shutov said.

How did so many baptismal bowls end up in a single location is a good question.

"These bowls could have been brought here during the reign of Denmark's King Valdemar II, which was the period when Estonians were baptized. They were used for baptism and were possibly handed to prominent Estonians who were baptized," Mäesalu said.

"These bowls have minimal signs of wear," Shutov added. "They were given to someone or someone had stashed them away."

Revolts against Christianization were not uncommon in 13th-century Estonia. During the 1223 rebellion, for example, with the exception of Reval (Tallinn), all Christian strongholds in Estonia were regained by Estonian native tribes who broke a truce with Christians, "washed off" their baptism and pledged to fight Christians.

Together with the baptismal copper bowls, the discovery of medieval niches in the tower of Haljala Church and ceiling paintings in the Estonian Knighthood House (Rüütelkonna hoone), were also recognized as the finds of the year.


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Editor: Evgenia Zybina, Kristina Kersa

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