A Spiritual and Cultural-Historical Journey
from Pirita to Vana-Vastseliina

Pilgrim’s route

Lalsi school, church and cemetery

We are in the village of Lalsi.
Documents mention Lalsi (Lales) for the first time in 1599. It rose to prominence after a glass manufactory was established there in 1764. The Lalsi parish school opened in 1848. The same building was later a community centre. A new, red-brick house was built for the school at the beginning of the 20th century. The school remained there until 1973. Today, the house is in private hands, doors and windows open, on the verge of collapse.

Friends of the Pirita Convent must naturally mention here that Father Vello Salo was born in Lalsi village. His father Aleksander Vaher was head of the local primary school, and his mother was a teacher as well. Lalsi school took on about one hundred children, some of them boarded there. The primary school had years four, five and six, the first three years studied at Odiste. Father Vello studied there only for a year before he went on to the Põltsamaa gymnasium. In the 1930s, according to Father Vello, Lalsi was a „blissful church village”. It had a school, an Orthodox church, community house, smithy, carpenter’s workshop, windmill, two shops. The post office and telephone exchange operated in one of the shops.

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In 1845–1848, large numbers of people in the countryside started converting to the orthodox church, mainly because of rumours that they would then get some land for free. The previous years had been very hard: harvests failed, causing severe famine and thus people were desperate for any help. This was obviously a carefully planned action by the central powers. It was no coincidence that precisely in 1842 the theological seminary in Pskov began teaching in Estonian and Latvian and soon the Riga theological seminary was opened to prepare orthodox priests.

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The conversion was followed by large-scale building of orthodox churches and various projects were compiled to this purpose. The Riga architect and academician Heinrich Carl Scheel’s (1829–1909) designs were used most – no fewer than 18 churches were built in Estonia. In 1871 the architect completed three design versions for churches of different sizes. The bigger ones had a magnificent stone bell tower, the smaller ones had to tower at all. Lalsi church, built in 1873, was a singular version where the bell tower is made of wood. The church was consecrated in 1873.

Kaur Alttoa

Lalsi church gave shelter to the iconostasis of Vaibla church that had to be demolished because of a new road. The orthodox church, abandoned for a long time now, is in a sorry state: the roof leaks badly, the wooden supporting constructions have collapsed. It is therefore very good news that the non-profit association Vanaajamaja (House of Olden Times), in cooperation with the Estonian Apostolic-Orthodox Church and local community has initiated the project to restore the roof of the Lalsi church. The work will take several years and anyone can take part in this international undertaking.

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A War of Independence memorial stands near the church, presenting the names of 13 people of the congregation who were killed in the war. The story of the memorial is quite typical: it was unveiled on 19 September 1926, pushed over on 23 June 1941, put up again on 19 July 1942. In October 1944 it was once again overturned, but luckily with the text side on the ground.
This is how it waited nearly half a century. The monument was raised up and consecrated on 19 June 1988. The memorial was restored by Heino Saks, Harri Saks, Jaanek Saks, Indrek Saks, Kaljo Kalts and Ville Dreving. The Lalsi memorial was the first restored monument to the War of Independence consecrated with a ceremony in Estonia.

Lagle Parek, 2017