15. KÄINA CHURCH RUINS


The story of Käina church is a testimony to the waste and destruction of war. Construction on this church was started about the same time that Columbus discovered America (1492). Like in Pühalepa, it replaced a wooden church that was built a few hundred years earlier. Its walls were skillfully constructed out of pieces of limestone with a precision that would be difficult to duplicate even today. The ceiling in the altar area is particularly impressive and here you can see tombs in the floor dating back to the 1500's. The interior of the church was once very beautiful. There was a choir loft over the door opposite the altar area. There was also a handmade organ built by the father of the famous Estonian composer Rudolph Tobias. Tobias' house has been preseved as a museum in Käina and is open to the public in summer.

The church had survived many storms, wars and other catastrophes for hundreds of years but it was finally destroyed in an event that would be funny if it were not so tragic.

In 1941 during World War Two the Soviet army was trying to prevent a German takeover of the island. The local commander made the bell tower of the church a sentry post from which they could see if the Germans were going to attack. One lone Soviet soldier was stationed in this tower. It was very boring work and the sentry decided to amuse himself by taking shots at the German planes that would occasionally fly overhead. This type of small arms fire from the ground did not really present a serious threat to the airplanes but one of the fighter plane pilots decided to put a stop to the sentry's target practice. He turned his plane around and made one low pass over the church, machine guns blazing. The bullets alone would not have caused serious damage but one burning tracer bullet lodged in the roof and set it on fire. The villagers tried desperately to save their church but in less than an hour it was all over. The church where so many had been married, baptized and buried was reduced to smoking ruins. A few days later, a lone Messerschmitt fighter plane landed at the military airport that was near Kaina. The pilot got out and asked to see the local parish pastor. When he found him, the pilot saluted and asked to be forgiven for destroying the church. Unfortunately, it is not known what the pastor said to the German pilot but certainly it was an interesting conversation!

As if enough damage wasn't done already, the Soviet authorities later built a building right on the church cemetery. There are only two grave markers that were spared. The people of Käina are trying to raise money to restore the church but in these difficult economic times that kind of money will be hard to find. It is likely that this church will forever remain a monument of man's inhumanity to man.