We could ask: where is the centre of Estonia? And the answer would certainly be: Pilistvere. When we had the idea to establish a pilgrimage route from Pirita to Vastseliina, we first went to Pilistvere to discuss matters with Pastor Hermann Kalmus. We felt that Pilistvere was just the right place for us and ideed, we received friendly support.
In the 13th century there was no hill fort here to protect the population from the invading forces. The area was plundered several times. In 1220 the people of the area were partly Christianised, the first priest was mentioned in 1234. There were about 4000 inhabitants in the area and about 500 hides of land were cultivated.
St. Andrew’s Church in Viljandi County is one of the oldest. A stone bearing the date MCCXXII or 1222 is walled in the northern side of the tower. According to Villem Raam the church dates from the third quarter of the 13th century and was fortified. The church boasts the tallest tower (incl. the spire) of any parish church in the Estonian countryside – 70.35 m. The precints of the church are surrounded by an octagonal stone fence, based on the eight compass directions.
The church has sustained damage, but it has always been reconstructed. On 30 November 1905 there was a storm that tore off the wooden part of the tower, it fell on the roof of the church and broke it. The tower and the church were temporarily covered by cardboard. The famous industrialists Puhks, in whose home county the church was, donated beautiful wrought-iron gates in 1930 and commissioned a repair project. The project, however, was not realised because of the breakout of WWII. The spire was not reconstructed until 1990. Another thing needs to be done yet: the modern roof of the nave should be restored to its original height.
Pilistvere has not escaped the ravages of wars and epidemics that swept all over Estonia. For example, the number of inhabitants of the Pilistvere parsonage after the Great Northern War was: seven men and eight women of working age, two men and three women, who were too old to work, and two children who were too young to work. There had been 47 deaths due to the plague. But life went on. In 1771, after Pilistvere Parish had recovered, there were 6926 inhabitants, of them 6836 peasants, 43 freemen, 10 clergy and 37 nobles. There were 677 farms and 470 cottagers.
The first schoolmaster in Pilistvere was Adam, a cantor of Estonian origin in 1680, who was able to read a little. The new method of teaching reading developed by Bengt Gottfried Forselius was first used by Pastor J. D. Berthold, who had a school at Pilistvere in 1685. This date is considered to be the beginning of Pilistvere Parish school.
Children’s choirs were formed in Pilistvere schools already starting in the 1850s. Thus the Pilistvere male choir, who participated in the first Estonian song festival in 1869, did not come out of nowhere.
Pilistvere flourished during the years of Estonian independence in 1920–1940. In 1935 there were 11 schools with the number of students amounting to 940.
In the modern-day Pilistvere the cemetery reminds us of Pilistvere’s importance throughout ages. The 16 May 1934 issue of Külaleht (Village Paper) carried a wonderful story: „You are walking, making your way through the Pilistvere cemetery, founded in about 1700, letting your glance slide over the crosses. There are names of Estonians famous all over the country, they represent the crème de la crème of our economic and business world. You read the names and understand that a piece of the spine of Estonia’s economy, a drop of the essence of our independence is buried here.”
The later history of Pilistvere has very well been rendered by the local historian Enno Piir: „Pilistvere is no longer the Denmark of Estonia. Pilistvere and its surroundings resemble Pompeji, where on each step we can see the effects of the eruption of the Russian Vesuvius in 1941 and1949.”
Jaan Jung, Jüri Vilms, the parents of August Rei and the parents of Joakim Puhk were all buried at Pilistvere. The grave monument to Jüri Vilms and the memorial stone to those fallen during the War of Independence remain intact, which is notable as most of these monuments were demolished by the Soviets. As a matter of fact, the big monument to the War of Independence opposite the community house was destroyed. By now it has been restored to its original state.
Approximately 150 inhabitans live at Pilistvere. In spite of the small number of inhabitants Pilistvere has become a lively centre.
Pilistvere has been lucky with its clergy up to the present day. On 15 November 1983 Vello Salum (1933–2015) took up the post of pastor here or, actually, he was banished to this sparsely populated part of the country. Thanks to him on All Soul’s Day in 1988 the stones were gathered to create a memorial to the victims of Stalinist terror. Slowly the place has developed into a memorial to the victims of Communist genocide with memorial stones and a neighbouring memorial grove.
Thanks to Vello Salum artificial lakes were created at Pilistvere, which have changed the appearance of the village. It was his bold idea to restore the parsonage so that now it is possible to organise events that attract large numbers of people. In this very same house the Bible Conference was convened in 1687, which the philologists regard as the first language conference in Estonia.
Without the active participation of Pastor Vello Salum the first opposition party, the Estonian National Independence Party would not have been established in Pilistvere Church on 20 August 1988. To commemorate this event there is a memorial stone at the gate of the churchyard.
In summer Pilistvere Church hosts thriving youth camps. The pilgrim who wants to enter the church – either for meditation or to look at the beautiful Baroque-style pulpit dating from 1686 – can pick up the key at the parsonage.
Lodgings are available. Contact: tel. +372 43 78561; email@example.com
Jesus Calls the First Disciples
While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, „Follow me, and I will make you fishers for men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. Matthew 4:18–20
Andrew was a fisherman on the Lake of Galilee and a disciple of John the Baptist. After John had called Jesus the Lamb of God, Andrew chose to follow Jesus and became the first disciple of Christ (the Protoclete, from Greek– the first called). Andrew was also the first missionary – he brought his brother Simon (Peter) to Jesus as he recognised Jesus as the Messiah.
According to tradition Andrew did missionary work and healing in Asia Minor, Scythia, Russia and Greece. He was crucified near the city of Patras in 62 A.D., because he had converted the wife of the Roman governor of Patras while he was healing her. Andrew was crucified on a saltire (X-shaped cross).
St. Andrew’s attributes are fishing net, fish and rope. St. Andrew is the patron saint of Greece; he is the protector of fishermen, old maids, and miners, he is also connected with gardening and farming. Three churches in Estonia are dedicated to St. Andrews: Pilistvere, Äksi and Sangaste churches.
Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, open our minds to respond to Your call and send us to do the works of God. Make us worthy instruments of God so that we could serve people and give us courage to persevere in every enterprise begun in Your name. Watch over all with Your Holy Spirit so that we can keep going in spite of hardships and temptations and so that we may finally find peace. Amen.