On your way back you can take a shortcut by turning right
before the paved road and following the sign “Posti 4 km“.
The road is not paved, but is much shorter.
Very soon you’ll reach Reigi village. When you have
passed Rootsi village, you will notice the tower of the
Reigi church soon. The church is situated in Pihla village.
Photo: Toomas Kokovkin / www.fotokogu.com
The name Reigi originates from the
local Swedes and it means both smoke
and beacon fire. Reigi was the biggest
Swedish village in northern Hiiumaa.
After the Swedes were deported in
1781, local Estonians started to form
their own community in Reigi. Swedish
families that lived beside the church
were not deported and at first people
called the community Rootsi küla
(Swedish village); later it became the
official name. Even before the World
War II some older people in the village talked to each other in the old
Swedish language. O. R. L. von Ungern-Sternberg established a small dairy farm
attached to a manor in Reigi village proper. Bricks were also produced near Reigi.
In the 20th century a dairy operated in Reigi. The
manor served as a schoolhouse.
Reigi became an independent parish in 1627, when the congregation
separated from Käina. The writer Aino Kallas has described those times
colourfully in her book The Reigi Pastor. The characters of the book did
not go to the church we see nowadays, but an old wooden church that
was situated in Reigi village. A wooden church with an architecturally
interesting central tower was subsequently built in the 1690s on the
high Pihla hill. The church was dedicated to John the Baptist. Swedes
formed the better part of the congregation, so the clergymen had to
speak Swedish too.
The stone church, still used for services but reconsecrated to Christ,
was built by Baron Otto Reinhold Ludwig von Ungern-Sternberg
(1744-1811) in memory of his son Otto Dietrich Gustav, who killed
himself. The church was inaugurated on August 24, 1802.
The heraldry above the main entrance also refers to the Ungern-Sternbergs.
The family burial place is situated nearby. Although the coat-of-arms remind
us of the higher dignitaries, ordinary workers and
builders are also remembered in the church. Their names can be seen
on the black boards at the side of the altarpiece, next to the names of the
patron and landlords.
In accordance with modern traditions, the Reigi church is built to be
roomy and light. If you think about it, being inside the church is very
much like standing under a huge boat turned upside down. All of the
architecture resounds with themes of belonging together. The biggest
asset of the Reigi church is its art collection. Almost all the works tell a
story that is older than the church and they lead us to the European art
traditions through Biblical themes. It is not known exactly how all these
works reached the far-away Reigi church, but some of them might have
come from castaways and shipwrecks, and others must represent the
taste or means of the former landowners. The year on the wall, 1899, is
the year of the last major reconstruction work, when the church’s colour
scheme changed and the current altarpiece was installed.
The church may also justifiably be proud of its organ, presumed to be
of Hiiumaa origin. Folk tales connect the organ with the parish pastors,
the Sakkeuses from Käina, although there is no written evidence.
The story of Reigi church could include a separate chapter about
local pastors, because some of them were quite important in the history
of culture. Some of them are more famous for their bad reputation
than honest service in the congregation, for example the first pastor,
P. A. Lempelius, who sentenced his unfaithful wife to death by
C. Forsmann was a pastor at the time, when the Swedes were
deported from the island and also during the inauguration of the stone
church. He hired an itinerant clergyman and launched a hat factory.
Pastor G. F. Rinne could speak the local language very well, and
composed an ode to Hiiumaa inspired by the words of Runeberg to a
tune by Pacius he had heard in Finland. It is presumed that even J. V.
Jannsen (1819-1890), an Estonian writer and person of culture during
the awakening period, who couldn't understand Finnish or Swedish,
used the words of Rinne's Hiiumaa song while composing Estonia's
Across the road from the church was once situated the parsonage and
the famous Pihla tavern that is even mentioned in Gustav Ernesaks's
opera Stormy Shore. The parsonage is still unoccupied, but full of
dignity. Nothing is left of the Pihla tavern, and even the hill on which it
was situated has been bulldozed.
Legends and stories
The church was also a place where people could get additional
education, especially in reading and singing. But once it happened that
a farmer found a book that he couldn't understand. He offered it to
the landlord and other people. Everybody asked: what does the book
look like? Does it contain stories or is it empty, are there pictures or
something else. The farmer could not answer these questions and at
last he said, that there was just a bunch of straw with little creatures
crawling on them - sheet music!