Christianity reached Estonia in the 11th century. In the second

half of the 12th century, the Roman Catholic Church began a

mission which culminated in the 1220s with the conversion of the

Estonians. The 300 year long Roman Catholic Church ecclesiastical

institutions crumbled during the Reformation in the 1520s, yet due

to long-term warfare, the ensuing reforms did not take effect

until the period of Swedish rule. A state church was created,

based on a strict Lutheran creed. A network of village schools was

established, and Estonian religious literature was first

published. In 1632, Tartu University was opened and the Bible was

translated into Estonian (the New Testament was published in 1686,

the whole Bible in 1739). Swedish Ecclesiastical Law was

implemented, which remained partially in force for almost 150


During the Northern War in 1700-10, the land was devastated, but

the Estonian culture was carried on through the traditions of the

church. The privileges granted to the Baltic-German nobility by

the Russian Czarist powers in 1743 to supervise the church, the

schools and the hospitals paralysed church activities, as the

church lost its relative independence. The 1832 ecclesiastical law

reduced the Evangelical faith in Russia to the status of a

tolerated religion. In the 1840s, there was extensive conversion

to the "Czar's religion", the proportion of Orthodox followers in

the population rose to 20%. With the tolerance manifesto of 1905

were adults given the right to choose their own faith. The

ideology of the Estonian national awakening was Christian, with

the first generation of Estonian clergymen at the forefront.

In 1919, in the independent Republic of Estonia, control of the

church passed into Estonian hands. Religious freedom was granted

to all persons and all denominations. The Estonian Evangelical

Lutheran Church with Episcopal-synodical structure was created,

which grew to be the largest church in Estonia, with 80% of the

population as its members. In 1925, the church was separated from

the state, but religious instruction remained in the schools and

clergymen were trained at the Faculty of Theology at Tartu


With the Soviet occupation and the implementation of anti-

Christian legislation, the church lost over 2/3 of its clergy,

work with children, youth, publishing, etc, was banned, church

property was nationalised and the Faculty of Theology was closed.

Although some church services were tolerated (Sunday church

services and presiding over funerals), by the 1970's, less than

10% of Estonians were prepared to publicly state that they were

Christians. It was not until 1988 that the state's religious

policies became tolerant, and by 1990 repressive legislation was


By today, religion has slowly begun its revival in Estonian

society. The Estonian Constitution states that there is no state

church in Estonia and that all persons are guaranteed the right to

freely practice the religion of their choice. On June 8, 1993 the

"Law on Churches and Congregations" entered into force, which

establishes the requirements for registration in Estonia, legal

relations between the individual and congregations and, most

importantly, provides all churches, congregations and associations

of congregations with legal guarantees for their property rights

and freedom from state control.

Religious instruction is primarily provided by churches and

congregations on a "Sunday school" basis, although religious

studies have been re-introduced into the public school curriculum

as an optional subject. The Faculty of Theology was re-opened at

Tartu University in 1992, with 25 new students enrolled for the

1993/1994 academic year. Three private institutes of higher

education also offer studies in theology.

A process of re-registration of churches to implement the "Law on

Churches and Congregations" has begun, and therefore there are no

comprehensive statistics on the exact number of churches and

congregations in Estonia. Current information and estimates list

the largest churches as follows:

1. The Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church     170 congregations

2. Association of Estonian Evangelical           90 congregations

Christian and Baptist Congregations

3. The Estonian Diocese of the Russian           85 congregations

   Orthodox Church

4. The Estonian Methodist Church                 15 congregations

5. Association of Seventh Day Adventists         15 congregations

6. The Catholic Church in Estonia                 5 congregations

The above churches have united in the Estonian Council of

Churches, which serves as a religious advisory board, led by

Bishop Einar Soone of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church.

7. Estonian Christian Church (Pentecostal)       60 congregations

8. Estonian Jewish Congregation

9. Word of Life                                   5 congregations

There are also Muslim, Mormon, Jehovah's Witnesses and other

congregations, however these have yet to apply for official

registration in Estonia.

September 1993.

 The historical overview has been presented from "Estonia. Once

Again a Country on the Map of the World. Tallinn 1992" with the

kind permission of the Estonian Encyclopaedia Publishers.