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

Pilgrim’s route

Kaatsi or Pranglilaane cross pine

Kaatsi or Pranglilaane cross pine (in Võro language: ristipettäi) is a remarkable repre-sentative of the burial custom where a cross was cut into a tree during the funeral service. This custom is today surviving only in southern and south-eastern parts of Estonia.


Cutting a cross into a tree comes from international and ancient beliefs about trees as a new location of the soul of the departed. New meanings have been added to this custom over the years – it is believed that once the cross has been cut in memory of the deceased, the dead would not start haunting the living at home; the cross is cut because it has always been done so, etc. The cross is usually cut by closest male relatives (literally: cross sons) and in some places (e.g. Hargla, Rõuge, Kambja and Põlva parishes) a ritual shot of alcohol and perhaps a bit to eat is offered to the mourners afterwards.


As part of traditional southern Estonian funeral customs, the tress bearing crosses, which are unique in the world context, symbolise the religious behaviour of local people, thus marking the boundary of life and death in landscape, as well as their relations with nature. In a less visible way this boundary is reflected in local people’s religious principles, folk tales and fiction – in the collective memory of people. Cross trees are part of intellectual cultural heritage.

The Pranglilaane cross pine in Kaatsi village also represents the vanishing cultural landscape – this path is no longer much used, but the cross marks on the trees prove that this was once a popular road along which the dead were taken to Kambja cemetery.

Kambja-Kaatsi_Ristimand_09_06_2021_24-22.jpg   Kambja-Kaatsi_Ristimand_09_06_2021_25-22.jpg

The crosses reach up to four metres. The bark of the pine has a spiral disfiguration after the tree was struck by lightning. This gives the tree a singular appearance. Such a tree as the Kaatsi pine with numerous crosses is today very rare in southern Estonia.
According to 1999 measuring results, the perimeter of the sacred tree is 3 m and height 39 m.

Marju Kõivupuu
September, 2017


In 2018, on the sunny Day of St. Michael’s, which remains appropriately just before the time of the souls, was blessed the Pranglilaane Crosspinus pilgrim’s prayer bench. Thanking Andrus Mõttus, the pastor of Kambja’s Church Congregation, for the good words on the blessing ceremony and great thanks to Marju Kõivupuu who thought with us and gave us the knowledges about Crosstrees and old funeral customs. Thanking also the Kambja’s Municipality Environmental specialist Taivo Prants and the bench manufacturer for their kind help.