Sacred natural sites. Values and protection (2007)

The book “Sacred natural sites. Values and protection” is an outcome of the interdisciplinary conference held in 2005 on the sacred natural sites of Estonia. It gives an overview of the sacred sites and the cultural, natural, legal and societal aspects associated with their investigation and protection issues.

The book consists of 9 articles written by researchers and specialists of different fields. The main articles are in Estonian; on this page you can find English abstracts.


Heiki Valk. Preface

Agne Trummal. Greetings to the conference “Historical Natural Sanctuaries Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow”

  1. Ahto Kaasik. Historical natural sanctuaries – values on the borderland between nature and culture
  2. Aare Kasemets. Cultural and natural heritage of holy natural places: preconditions for sustainability
  3. Heiki Valk. Sacred natural places as archaeological objects
  4. Eerik Leibak. Sacred forests as natural objects
  5. Auli Kütt. Behavioural norms related to sacred trees and groves of Estonia
  6. Mall Hiiemäe. Holy natural places as objects of mental landscape: the concept and its manifestations
  7. Mari-Ann Remmel. Message of the grove-tradition in the present time:  source materials and interpretations
  8. Kärt Vaarmari. Legal aspects of protecting sacred natural places
  9. Marju Torp-Kõivupuu. Cross-trees in southern Estonian landscape and folk beliefs

Heiki Valk. Preface

The present book discusses the natural sanctuaries of Estonia – groves, holy trees, stones, springs, etc., as well as their present situation and meaning for the native cultural identity, both in the past and present.

Holy natural places, an integral part of the Estonian traditional culture, started to lose their former sacred and cultural meaning only in the 18th , especially the 19th century – rather late in the general European context. Natural sanctuaries have greatly lost their former sacred meaning and many are known merely as toponyms, but many Estonians still perceive them as an essential part of the indigenous cultural traditions

The non-governmental organisation Maavalla Koda (Estonian House of Native Religions) initiated a state-budgeted development plan to grant state support for the holy natural places. Respective work group lead by Agne Trummal, head of the National Heritage Board, laid foundations for the project in 2004/2005.

Unfortunately, Agne Trummal became a victim of a tragic traffic accident in November 2005. The present book contains the papers of a conference on holy natural places held in the Estonian National Library in Tallinn in March 2005 and is also a commemoration to her. The book includes contributions from different perspectives: heritage and nature protection, folklore, nature studies, archaeology, semiotics, and law. The aim is to disseminate ideas and knowledge about the meaning of natural sanctuaries in the present-day society, especially at the level of local authorities and leaders of local communities.

By now, a decision has been made by the Ministry of Culture of Estonia to launch the state-budgeted development plan Historical Natural Sanctuaries for the years 2008–2012. The objective of the project is to protect holy natural places and raise public awareness. The plan has three main goals. First, it foresees the establishment of an inventory of holy natural places in the course of extensive fieldworks. A database of natural sanctuaries will be created on the basis of available archival data, which will be checked on the landscape. Second, state protection will be granted for the preserved sites; methodological principles will be established for protecting the sites, both in general terms and in case of single objects. The third goal is to increase general understanding about the meaning of natural sanctuaries. It should be underlined that not only material objects themselves form a meaningful part of the cultural heritage, but also their environment and ‘mental space’ are equally important.

Agne Trummal. Greetings to the conference “Historical Natural Sanctuaries Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow”

Continuity of culture and society is based on traditions, which become endangered in times of big social changes. This general rule concerned also the 1990s. Discontinuity of traditions hinders greatly state protection of monuments, especially holy natural places. Launching a new state development plan creates preconditions for protecting the natural sanctuaries of Estonia.

More complicated, however, is the question how to grant preservation of the sites in the situation when traditional values are often ignored or forgotten. Not only laws, but also good will, cooperation, and mutual understanding of all partners is needed to achieve the aim.