- Created on 02 September 2011
At the beginning of the 13th century, Estonia was conquered by the German Teutonic Order and Christianized by force. Some archaeological evidence suggests that Christianity was known in the centuries prior to the conquest. Based on archaeological relics, such as crosses and metal book corners, some area of Estonia have been Christian.
The whole of Estonia was subjugated by the year 1227 and, until the mid 16th century, Estonia was divided among Catholic feudal landlords and, thus, Catholic territory, although not yet unified.
During the Livonian War, medieval Estonia was conquered by the Swedes, initially occupying northern Estonia and, later, the southern part. Swedish rule, from 1561–1710, banned the Catholic faith for benefit of the Lutheran Church.
In the Great Northern War Sweden lost Estonia to Russia, which governed the land from 1710 to 1918. Russian Tsars granted vast privileges to the resident Baltic-German nobility of Estonia, including freedom of religion. During the 18th century, Polish and then Lithuanian immigrant noblemen started to make their own use of this right aimed at preserving Lutheranism in the Baltic. The first Catholic mass, after more than a hundred years, was held on 18 January 1786. There were less than 300 Catholics in Estonia at that time. Catholicism began its revival. On 26 December 1845, the new Catholic Church of Tallinn was consecrated, followed by the new Catholic Church of Tartu in 1899.
In 1918, when Estonia gained independence, Estonian citizens had complete freedom of religion. The Holy See recognized Estonia on 10 October 1921. In 1931 Eduard Profittlich, S.J. became the apostolic administrator for the Roman Catholic Church in Estonia. In 1936 he was ordained as the first Estonian bishop. When World War II broke out, there were almost 5,000 Catholics in Estonia (Tallinn: 2.333, Tartu: 1.073, Narva: ca. 600, Valga: ca. 800). In 1939 Estonia was invaded by the Soviets. They arrested Bishop Profittlich who subsequently died in a Soviet prison in 1942. During the Soviet occupation, all but two of Estonia's Catholic churches were closed. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Estonia regained its independence and was re-recognized by the Holy See on 28 August 1991. Estonia received its first Papal visit when Pope John Paul II visited in September, 1993.
The Current State of Catholicism in Estonia
The Catholic population of Estonia is small, approximating 6,000 adherents. There are no dioceses. Instead, the country forms an apostolic administration. Since 2005, the apostolic administrator residing in Tallinn is Bishop Philippe Jean-Charles Jourdan.