Valjala church
Saint Martin's Church of Valjala is the oldest church in Estonia situated in Valjala Commune, approximately 25 kilometers from Kuressaare on the island of Saaremaa (Ösel).

History

13th century
Immediately after the conquest of 1227, a stone chapel was erected in Valjala not far from the ancient stronghold. Its walls form the lower part of the present church choir. On the southern side of the chapel, there was a vestry. Soon after completion, the chapel was decorated with murals, the remaining fragments of which may be seen on the northern wall of the church (six seated apostles in a Romanesque framing). In 1240 construction of the single-nave church was started. The original chapel was transformed into a choir. At first, Romanesque forms were maintained: all entrances are round-arched. They were severely damaged, probably during the Saint George's Night Rebellion, and were later reconstructed. In the construction of the windows and vaults in the upper parts of the building, the pointed arches of the new style can already be seen. The new masters seem to have come from Vamhem in Sweden. The room above the vaults was adapted for a refuge: the stairs leading to the loft does not start at ground level: the staircase door on the southern wall of the chancel arch is three metres above the floor. As a result, it could only be reached using a ladder.

14th-17th centuries
In the second half of the 14th century, a new polygonal apse was added to the church. The tower, which is curiously located above the vestry on the southern side of the church, was probably not completed until the 17th century. In the walls of the tower, fragments of archaic trapezoid tombstones can be seen. Archaic tombstones of this type have previously only been found in western Estonia. They might originate from the pre-Conquest period. The Kuressaare master, Nommen Lorenzen, made the altarpiece in 1820. Besides a medieval baptismal font, other noteworthy antiques inside the church are two Baroque epitaphs (of Andreas Fregius, 1664 and Gaspar Berg, 1667).

18th-20th centuries
In 1888, Gustav Normann built the church's organ. In 1922, lightning struck and burned a part of the roof. Dolores Hoffman, who began work on them in the 1970s, made the stained glass windows. They mark the beginning of a new tradition in Estonian stained glass art.

21st century
In 2004 the organ was overhauled by Ago Tint.

The western portal
The round-arched western portal is of Romanesque style. The portal has been badly damaged, (probably in the Saint George's Night Rebellion), and of its original design only the archivolt remains. The splayed jambs, the gable and the flat frieze lining the archivolt date from later medieval reconstruction.

View from the northeast
The massive walls of the nave, erected between 1240 and 1270, are punctuated with coupled window openings. In contrast with these archaic forms stands the polygonal apse, built in the second half of the 14th century, also probably after the damage of the Saint George's Night Rebellion (1343”“1345). The church, which is constructed of carefully hewn stone blocks, has late Gothic forms. The master builders of Central European origin, who built the stronghold of Kuressaare, evidently also worked here.

Interior
The most impressive elements in the interior design of the church are the high domed vaults with Westphalian ribs and bosses. A ridge in the wall and the remains of girders are evidence of a defense gallery that once ran beneath the windows of the nave. The doorway in the intrados of the chancel arch led to the loft, which served as a refuge.

Baptismal font
The late Romanesque baptismal font of Valjala church is one of the oldest pieces of carved stonework in Estonia. It is believed that the font was originally made for Haapsalu Cathedral and only later brought to Saaremaa. The font is decorated with late Romanesque tendrils. Similar decor can be seen in Riga Cathedral (for example, on its northern portal). Both were the work of the same master, probably of Westphalian origin.