Now, turn left from the main road or, if you are coming from the stones, drive across the paved road and proceed straight ahead. You will pass the ruins of a stone building (former Pühalepa tavern). Drive straight ahead until the church behind the trees on the left comes into view. There is a little parking lot near the church gates.
Photo: Tiit Leito / www.fotokogu.com
The name "Pühalepa" means "holy alder" and refers to the grove of alder trees
where the people held their religious rituals. Although this is the oldest
church in Hiiumaa, the 18th-19th century appearance belies this fact. Around
1255 the Teutonic Order started to build a stone church here in the place of
a former wooden church. The vaulted stone church, at first without a tower,
was completed in the 14th century. One of the preserved consecration crosses
is exposed on the choir-room wall. This was an ordinary defensive church. Passages
to the loft have survived to the present day (one at the wall niche of the
choir-room and the other near the entrance of the southern wall of the nave).
The church was dedicated to St Lawrence. During the Livonian war (16th century)
the Pühalepa church was plundered, but it was restored again at the beginning
of the 17th century. At least it is said that the Scottish admiral Clayton, who
died of plague in 1603 in Hiiumaa, was buried in the church with dignity. In
the first quarter of the 17th century, the Danes plundered the church.
In 1636 the landlords of Hiiessaare (named Gentschien) donated a gorgeous stone pulpit to the congregation (rare anywhere in Estonia), thus buying themselves the right to be buried in the church choir-room. Their tombstone stands by the southern window of the choir-room.
Construction of the church tower started in 1770 (the year is marked above the entrance) and it reached its final height in the second half of the 19th century. At that time the tower served as a seamark as well.
In the 19th century the church was reconstructed once again. The vaults of
the nave were replaced by a vault ceiling; the sacristy on the northern side
of the choir-room and the segregated women's porch from the 17th century were
dismantled. Probably at the same time, the circled crosses of the Maltese Order
(some of the Ungern-Sternbergs belonged to the order) were painted on the nave's
The Soviet period was just as costly to the church as was the Livonian war. During the occupation, the church was closed, the benches were cut out, the organ was smashed and the church was turned into a warehouse.
After independence was regained, the church also recovered. Now the congregation once again owns the church and most of the former church property has been returned. The altarpiece that was lost during the war has been replaced by a colourful stained glass. Services and concerts are held regularly in the church.
Legends and stories
According to the legend, construction of the church did not go smoothly. Everything that was finished the day before was destroyed the next morning (possibly the story is about the initial wooden church). People thought that it must have been the devil himself, or his local understrappers. So they decided to choose a more favourable place for God and for that purpose they used two black oxen, as it was believed that animals obey and listen to God better than men. People concluded that the church should be built in a place where oxen drag stones. The same flat stone is still near the gate of the church fence under the bushes. The legend, however, says that farmers coaxed oxen with nourishing grass to follow them to the suitable place. So, who can tell, where the truth lies.
Regardless of the grand impression left by the church, the entrance door was said to have been so low that the most famous giant of Hiiumaa, Leiger, had to crawl inside, and hence he was an infrequent churchgoer.