The first Holy Trinity Orthodox Church in Haapsalu was built in 1756 on the initiative of mayor J. Tobias-Enkin. The wooden church was meant to be used by the military personnel lodged in Haapsalu. The church did not have its own priest and therefore the services were held either by a priest from Paldiski or by the chaplain of the local military unit. The church was closed down in the 1830s for unknown reasons. It is possible that the church was destroyed in a fire.

Orthodox church in Haapsalu was officially registered on February 1, 1836 because a church in Tallinn which housed a military hospital closed down and its office and properties were moved to Haapsalu. As there was no church building, the services were held in a local military barrack for the next 15 years. The congregation consisted mostly of Russian aristocrats, merchants and military personnel.

The construction of the church of Promenade started in 1845. The foundations of the church were built using donations, but the work stopped until 1851. The remaining funding for the completion of the church was then granted from the state treasury by the decision of the Holy Synod

The church was consecrated on July 21, 1852. The ceremony was led by Bishop Kristofor from Tallinn and attended by Alexander (later Tsar Alexander II), the son of Tsar Nikolai I, and Tsarina Maria Alexandrovna. The church was consecrated as St Mary Magdalene’s Church on her request.

In the beginning, the congregation consisted mostly of local aristocrats and military officers. The congregation increased noticeably in size in the summertime, as many guests from Russia and other places came to Haapsalu for holidays. During the new religious awakening in the last decades of the 19th century, many Estonians and people of other nationalities joined the congregation.

A burial-chapel on the Haapsalu’s old graveyard was completed in 1896 and it was consecrated in honour of St Alexander Nevsky. The chapel was transformed into an assisting church some years later. Many Russian aristocrats and cultural personalities who spent their summers in Haapsalu gave donations for the construction. A notable contributor was a businessman and owner of gold mines Aleksei Wekshin who donated icons to St Mary Magdalene’s Church and money for the building of the St Alexander Nevsky Chapel.

Before WW I a decision was made to take down St Mary Magdalene’s Church, as the church had become too small for the big congregation. Luckily, the war spoilt these plans.

There were around 500 active donating members in the congregation in the 1930s. The services were mostly held in Estonian, but on the last Sunday of each month the Church Slavonic language was used. Services in the Estonian language were held by archpriest Jakob Mutt, Church Slavonic services by priest Joann Männik.

The membership of the congregation became smaller due to the Soviet power and its anti-religious propaganda, from 455 members 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 theft in the church, the interior of the church was taken to a church in the town of Kiviõli, where it is located until today. The Soviet authorities gave an order to the congregation to move out of St Mary Magdalene’s Church in 1964.

The congregation was allowed to start using the assistant church again. A written contract was made between the congregation and the town’s authorities. The move took place from August to September 1964. As the chapel had been damaged whilst standing empty, a quick renovation of the interior was carried out and the beautiful ceiling paintings were restored.

Mary Magdalene’s church, however, shared the destiny of many other holy buildings of Estonia – the empty church was used as a warehouse. The congregation’s archive (documents, church-books etc) was destroyed at the end of the Soviet period.

The congregation of St Mary Magdalene was revived in 1994 when the church on the Promenade was returned to the congregation.

The congregation started with 38 members who wished independence for the congregation. The building was used together with the Seventh Day Adventist congregation who had used the church since 1985. The then meagre interior decoration of the church met the needs of Adventists.

Life in the congregation changed in 1996 when the Archbishop of Finland Johannes ordained priest Aleksander (Aivar Sarapik) and deacon Platon (Jüri Ilves) to the congregation. In August 1997 Metropolitan Ambrosius of Oulu, Finland, ordained deacon Jüri Ilves as a priest, who started to serve the congregation.

The congregation had a chance to obtain a well-preserved iconostasis from an empty church in Suure-Jaani in 1998. It was transferred to Haapsalu, where it was restored and installed before Easter. The church adopted a traditional look. The congregation could finally move into their old building on Endla Street.

The congregation has developed substantially during the last 10 years. It has two houses beside the churchin Linda Street. One is the priest’s home and the second is the guest-house of the congregation. One of the houses is more known as the Wikland House, as the world famous Swedish-Estonian artist Ilon Wikland spent her childhood there.

We look into the future with hope and faith to fill the several decades’ long void, which was created in the life of the congregation during the Soviet period.

Church’s stained glasses

The most notable event in the year 2012 was the instalment of stained glasses on two rose windows of the church, created by artist Dolores Hoffmann.

The stained glass on the northern window has a theme of Hope, depicting old Christian symbols like an anchor, a rainbow, a ship and a fish.


The stained glass on the southern window is called the Eucharist, on which a chalice, a discos, a grape tree, the monogram of Christ and two doves are depicted.

Visit of His All Holyness Patriarch Bartholomew

On September 10, 2013 our church and congregation was visited by His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. A prayer service to Saint Mary Magdalene was held together. Priest Jüri Ilves welcomed the guests with a speech and gave the Patriarch small mementos. After that, the Patriarch gave a hearty welcoming speech. Mayor Urmas Sukles greeted the patriarch and his entourage with lavish and festive supper in the summer restaurant Kuursaal. They strolled on the banks of Promenaad and visited the Haapsalu Neurological Rehabilitation Center, where the patriarch greeted and blessed the hospital’s personnel and patients. Patriarch left Haapsalu on the very same day and headed to visit Finland.