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Frontpage News 2012 Old Believers culture

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Window into the Old Believers culture

  • A new centre has opened in south-eastern Estonia to provide visitors a glimpse into the religious and cultural minority that separated from the Russian Orthodox Church 350 years ago.

    On the eastern shores of Lake Peipus, which forms part of the border between Estonia and Russia, a string of villages differ from all other villages in Estonia, both by their outward appearance as well as by the culture that forms their foundation. Small houses huddle close together at both sides of the street, running uninterrupted for kilometers. This is the villages of the Old Believers, who separated from the official Russian Orthodox Church in the mid-17th century.

    A cultural minority
    In 1652, Patriarch Nikon of Moscow initiated religious reforms in the Russian Orthodox Church and those not complying with the new order were arrested or persecuted. The religious exodus that these actions triggered led thousands of people to seek refuge in Estonia. The refugees and their descendants maintained their traditional beliefs, church services, songs and icons, and also their mundane, elaborately decorated household items. Thus, the Old Believers formed and still form a small and long-lived religious minority within the larger ethnic minority of Russians in Estonia.

    Keeping the traditions alive
    Thanks to a €200,000 grant from the Estonian Regional Development Fund of the EEA and Norway Grants, the NGO Piiri Peal has bought and renovated the old merchant house in the area and converted it into a visitors centre.

    The Peipsimaa Visitors' Centre will offer information, artifacts and courses in painting of icons, wood prints, embroidery, weaving of fishing nets, basket-weaving and other handicraft, in an attempt to bring the slowly vanishing culture of the Old Believers alive again.

    The establishment of the Centre has already given a huge boost to the area. Professionals from the Estonian University of Life Sciences have for instance mapped the cultural treasures of the region and developed courses to teach the unique skills of the Old Believers to locals as well as to visitors. In addition, a thorough study has been undertaken in order to map and develop the region’s tourism potential.

    Photo credit: Piret Marvet, Royal Norwegian Embassy, Tallinn.

  • Project title:

    Block Grant "Strengthening of local and regional development"

    Case number:


    Priority sector:

    Regional policy and cross-border activities


    € 200,000



    Type & project assistance:

    Block Grant

    Project promoter:

    NGO Piiri Peal

    Type of institution:


    Project duration:

    43 months

    Project cost:

    € 4,633,004

    Grant rate:


    Grant from:

    The Estonian Regional Development Fund of the EEA and Norway Grants

    Grant agreement date:

    29 January 2008

    The purpose of the Fund is to increase the attractiveness and competitiveness of regions and local authorities' administrative capacity, and develop better public services through improved cooperation among regional stakeholders, with the overall objective of contributing to the sustainable and balanced development in the regions of Estonia. Reference is made to the application, dated 29 December, 2006 and subsequent correspondence with the Focal Point dated 14 February, 11 April and 7 September 2007.

    The completed Fund shall include the following activities:

    - Re-granting towards selected sub-projects relating to strengthening the administrative capacity of local authorities and promoting investment, local and regional partnerships and development activities oriented to improve and diversify the local economic and business environment.

    - Fund management including publicity.

    The Intermediary is Enterprise Estonia.

    The Estonian Government shall provide at least 1,39 percent of the estimated eligible costs of the Fund.