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Gallery: Kolkja old believers museum opens on shores of Peipsi järv

A museum in the village of Kolkja, Tartu County, tells the story of the Russian old believers' community, long established on the shores of Peipsi järv, which makes up much of Estonia's "East coast."

old believerThe Old Believers first came to Estonia in the mid-17th century after reforms introduced by Patriarch Nikon of Moscow led to their persecution.

One of the most famous changes brought in at that time was a requirement to cross oneself (which in the Orthodox faith is done up-down-right-left, rather than up-down-left-right as in the Catholic Church) using three fingers, rather than two.

A road known as the "Onion route" links together the villages, such as Kolkja and Mustvee, which lie on Peipsi järv's Western shore.

The region is famed for its onions.

The museum is part-funded by EU grants.

Piibe Koemets, Mayor of Peipsiääre Rural Municipality, highlighted the cultural diversity of the region, which she said is exemplified by the museum, called the Kolkja Old Believers Museum (Kolkja alevikus muuseum).

Koemets told ERR's Kultuur portal that: "Our Peipsiääre municipality, also known as the 'Onion route' area, will tell the story of three cultures to our visitors."

"We have the Baltic German aristocratic culture, the Estonian peasant culture, and the history and traditions of the Russian Old Believers, all intertwined. The newly built museum will create even more favorable opportunities to get to know each culture," Koemets went on (see gallery above).

Lilli Tarakanov, owner of the museum's building, was full of praise for the finished work, and said that: "Our community of Old Believers is extremely grateful to Peipsiääre Rural Municipality. We feel that our culture has now been preserved," adding that local people who visited the museum for the first time often go away shedding tears of joy.

The museum, situated on Ranna 17 in Kolkja, cost €1.11 million to establish, of which €100,000 was allocated to exhibitions.  EU regional development funds along with contributions from the Peipsiääre municipality were pressed into action on this.

Külli Must, who headed up the renovation process, highlighted an opportunity to see more of the Russian Old Believer community in the region, a community which had previously been somewhat closed off.

Virtual Reality (VR) headsets are also on offer, to get a feel for the rich iconostasis of the Varnja prayer house (the prayer house itself is open to the public, by prior booking).

"The newly open museum is so large that it can accommodate an entire village, a large bus-full of guests, all at once," Must went on.

The museum's ground floor contains mock-ups of Old Believers homes from around the turn of the last century, while the first floor hosts the VR environment, in which visitors can, for instance, take part in an Orthodox prayer.

A representative selection of tools, handicrafts and, given the Old Believers' villages proximity to, and dependence upon, Peipsi järv, period fishing gear.

The Kolkja Old Believers Museum opened Friday and is open to the public Wednesdays to Saturday until May and every day from May to the end of August. 

Information in the museum is available in English, while the entire building is also wheelchair-accessible.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Kaspar Viilup

Source: ERR Kultuur portal

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