A Brief History of St. Michael’s Swedish Parish

Swedes have lived in Tallinn since the early Middle Ages (Reval). Exactly when and from where they came to the islands and coastal regions of Estonia cannot be established with certainty, but there are written sources already from 1271 which mention Estonian Swedes. Therefore, there is good reason to assume that Swedes were present soon after Tallinn, the Danish town, was founded in connection with the conquering of the Estonian Fortress, Lindanäs. Most of the Swedes, however, remained living on the islands and in the costal areas of northern Estonia. 

The reformation came earlier to Estonian than to Sweden and with this the division into national parishes in order to hear God’s word preached in the mother tongue. It is not possible to date the foundation of the Swedish Parish exactly, but it is certain that it existed in 1531, as it is recorded that the parish priest died that year. The Reformation was in no way uncontested and the Baltic German knighthood was to a large extent the defenders of the Roman Church until the situation stabilized when Estonia came under Swedish rule in 1651. The Swedish population doubled many times and a second Swedish parish was founded on the Toompea. In 1631, Gustav Adolf II decided that the first elementary and secondary school should be established in the old St. Michael’s monastery and that the monastery church should be granted to the Swedish parish. 

Immediately the parish began to renovate its first church and to acquire the necessary inventories. The Swedish period, inevitably, progressed towards its end. Despite the brilliant victory at Narva in 1700, the Swedish forces were forced to leave Estonia ten years later. 

In 1716, the Russian governor general decided that the Swedish parish in Reval had to evacuate its church, which then became the Russian Orthodox garrison church. After this, the homeless Swedish parish had to celebrate its masses in different German churches until the authorities, out of compassion, gave them the Hospital of St. John on Rüütli Street. The church was inaugurated in 1733, when the old inventories were put in place. This church became a spiritual home for generations of Swedes in Reval, and for a long time it was the only place outside the home where one could hear the mother tongue spoken. 

Estonian independence in 1918 also brought with it a cultural awakening for the Estonian-Swedes and a Swedish school could at last be started in the old vicorage, where also Svenska Odlingens Vänner, Kustbon and Svenska Folkförbundet had their offices. In 1944 it was once again time for the Parish to disband. The experiences from the terror of the first Soviet occupation (1940-41) made as many as possible try to go west before the Red Army marched in again. At last transportation for the Estonian Swedes was organized and, when the last so called legal transport to Sweden was about to leave, the parish gathered for a farewell service in the church. From there they went directly down to the waiting boat, bringing with them as much of the parish belongings as they could carry. 

The few Estonian Swedes who remained had no possibility to keep their church under the governing Soviet religious legislation. Rather, they were forced to see their childhood church transformed into a sports-club. The church remained in this state of disrepair until 1992 when, after the visit of the Swedish royal couple to the newly independent Estonia, the church was returned to the re-established Swedish parish. Since 1992, mass has been regularly celebrated in St. Michael’s Swedish Church at Rüütli Street 9.

St. Michael’s Swedish Parish Today

The parish today has approximately 200 members. Most are Estonian-Swedes and their ancestors. The parish belongs to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Estonia, but its working language is Swedish. St. Michael’s Swedish parish strives to be a meeting-place for Swedish speaking visitors as well as residents in the Tallinn area. Services are celebrated every Sunday at 12:00 noon. Afterwards all participants are invited for coffee in the parish hall.

Important Dates in Parish History

1531 First certain evidence of a Swedish parish in Tallinn (Reval).
1631 St. Michael’s Monastery Church on Suur-Kloostri Street becomes Swedish garrison and parish church.
1716 The church is forcefully taken over by the Russian Governor General. 
1733 Swedish parish moves into the localities of the former hospital of the Knights of St. John on Rüütlistreet.
1853 Chapel on the island of Naisaaar (Nargö) inaugurated.
1897 The Pakri (Rågö) Islands are incorporated with St. Michael’s Parish.
1908 The Swedish King Gustav V visits St. Michael’s Church.
1917 A Swedish elementary school is founded in the vicarage.
1929 King Gustav V visits the parish.
1932 Swedish Prince Gustav Adolf visits the parish. 
1936 Prince Gustav Adolf again visits the parish.
1944 The Church is damaged during a bombing raid. The vicarage is completely destroyed. A farewell mass is held in the church and part of the parish departs with the last legal transport to Sweden. Carrying with them some of the Church valuables.
1945 The remaining parishioners attempt to register the parish, but the application is denied. During the Soviet period the church is used as a sports facility.
1990 St. Michael’s Swedish Parish is re-established.
1992 The Swedish King and Queen visit the Church. In the autumn the Church is returned to the parish and the first service is held.
2000 The parish receives its own first vicar since World War II. Basic renovation of the Church is completed.
2002 The Swedish King and Queen participate in the re-consecration of the church on May 5.