On Feb 1st, 2016 180 years have passed since the registration of the congregation of Maria Magdalena.
The first – Holy Trinity – church was built in Haapsalu in 1756 on the initiative of bürgermeister Tobias-Enkin. The wooden church was meant for the use of the military persons lodged in Haapsalu. The church did not have a priest and the services were held by a priest from Paldiski. If necessary, the chaplain of the local military unit, held the services at the church. In the 1830-s the church was closed down for unknown reasons. It is possible that the church was destroyed in a fire.
The official registration of the Haapsalu orthodox congregation happened on Feb 1st, 1836, when the church, located in a military hospital in Tallinn, closed down and its office and properties were moved to Haapsalu. As there was no church building, the services were held in a stone garrison for the next 15 years.
In 1845 the building of a church on the Promenade started. The foundations of the church were built using donations, but then the building work stopped until 1851. The necessary amount of money for the completion of the church came in the end from the state by the decision of the Holy Synod.
The church was consecrated on July, 21st, 1852. The consecration ceremony was led by Bishop Kristofor from Tallinn. The ceremony was attended by the son of czar Nikolai I – Alexander (later czar Alexander II) and the czarina – Maria Aleksandrovna.
At her request the church was consecrated as Maria-Magdalena church.
In the beginning the congregation consisted mostly of local aristocrats and military officers. In the summer the congregation would become huge, as many guests from Russia and other places holidayed in Haapsalu. During the new religious awakening in the last decades of the 19th century many Estonians and other nationalities joined the congregation.
In 1896 a burial-chapel on the Haapsalu old grave-yard was completed and it was consecrated in honour of holy Aleksander of Neva. After some years the chapel was built into an assisting church. Many Russian aristocrats and cultural activists, who spent their summers in Haapsalu, gave donations to the building. A big contributor was a businessman and owner of gold-mines – Aleksei Wekshin, who donated icons to the church and money for the building of the Aleksander Nevski Church.
Before WW I a decision was made to demolish the Maria-Magdalena Church, as the church had become too small for the big congregation. Luckily the war spoilt these plans.Otherwise we would not have such a beautiful – and unique in Estonian architecture – church.
In the 1930-s there were around 500 donating members in the congregation, whose life was very active.
The services in the congregation were mostly held in Estonian, on the last Sunday of the month – in church-slavonic language. Estonian language services were held by archpriest Jakob Mutt, church-slavonic language services by priest Joann Männik.
With the soviet power and its anti-religious propaganda the membership of the congregation became smaller – from 455 (in 1935) to approximately 100 (in 1946).
Until 1961, the soviets allowed the use of both church buildings, but then the order came to close down the assisting church. The building stood empty for three years. To avoid stealing in the church, the interior of the church was taken to a church in Kiviõli, where it is until today.
In 1964 the soviet power gave an order to the congregation to move out of the Maria-Magdalena Church. On the grounds of the application the congregation was allowed to start using the assistant church again. A written contract was made about this between the congregation and the towns commitee. The moving happened in august to september 1964. As the chapel had been damaged whilst standing empty, a guick renovation of the interior was completed and during these works the beautiful ceiling paintings were restored.
But the fate of the Maria Magdalena church was the same as many other holy buildings – the empty building was used as a depot for the electricity supplies of the town. The congregations archives (documents, church-books etc) were destroyed (demolished?) in 1980-1990-s.
In The Historical Archive of Tartu there is a document, f. 1884, of the congregations history.
The congregation of the Haapsalu Maria Magdalena started again in 1994, when the church on the Promenade was returned to the congregation.
The congregation started with 38 members, who wished an independence for the congregation. The building was used together with the congregation of the Seventh Day Adventist congregation, who had used the church since 1985. The church’s interior decoration was also according to the needs of the Adventists.
A change in the life of the congregation happened, when two new priests were ordained for the Haapsalu congregation in 1996 – then the Finnish Archbishop Johannes ordained priest Aleksander (Aivar Sarapik) and diakon Platon (Jüri Ilves). In August 1997 Metropolit Ambrosius of Oulu, Finland ordained diakon Ilves as a priest, who started to serve the congregation.
In 1998 we heard, that there is a well-preserved iconostase in an empty church in Suure-Jaani. It was brought to Haapsalu, where it was put up after some restoration before Easter. The church started to have a traditional look. The congregation got the church totally for themselves from September 1st, 2001, when the adventist congregation moved into their new house on Endla street.
During these last 10 years the congregation has gone through a consistencial and material development.
Besides the church-building, the congregation has two houses on Linda street, which function as the priests home and a guest-house for the congregation. One of the houses is more known as Wikland House, as the world famous artist Ilon Wikland spent her childhood there.