Natural Shrines – values and protection

The presnt boo discusses the natural sanctuaries of Estonia – groves, holy trees, stones, springs, etc., as well as their present condition 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.

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