A rare peace of good news from Russia for Estonians, just before Christmas: last Wednesday, head of the Estonians’ congregation in St Petersburg Külli Sulg was handed certificate regarding the church land now belonging to the congregation thereof.
«I have received the certificate confirming that the plot of land underneath the St John’s and the courtyard is now owned by the congregation,» announced Ms Sulg. All in all, the plot in central St Petersburg is 1,885 square metres.
St Petersburg city government real estate committee decided to return St John’s land this October, pursuant to the local law regarding the returning of church lands in Russia that entered into force a couple of years ago.
This is a glorious gift to the Estonian congregation, next year celebrating the 155th anniversary of the opening of the church – one which has played a highly significant role in the history of Estonia.
The life’s work of Külli Sulg, at helm of the Estonian congregation in St Petersburg for years, has born remarkable fruit. In 2011, the St John’s church, renovated by Estonian state money, was reopened. Two years ago, also by St Petersburg city government decision – and also right before Christmas – the church building was returned to the congregation. And now, the official decision to return the land also. In all of these events, Külli Sulg has played an important role – and the main role in preparing and filing the return application.
According to Ms Sulg, St John’s congregation assumed ownership of the land free of charge as, pursuant to Russian law, religious organisations do not pay land and real estate taxes. «There naturally are the clauses and restrictions (regarding use of the land), but there concern the church building being under heritage conservation,» said Ms Sulg.
The Estonian congregation is not allowed to sell or rent the St John’s Church land, the land may only be used for the purposes of the congregation as a religious organisation.
According to data by Estonian culture ministry, the restoration of St John’s in St Petersburg cost Estonian state 136 million kroons (€8.7m) during the two years of construction works.
The restoration of the church was led by Aivar Mäe and Eesti Kontsert, now using the church actively as a hall for concerts. This spring, the congregation and Eesti Kontsert entered a cooperation agreement pursuant to which the congregation allows Eesti Kontsert to use the church facilities in return for the latter making all payments for utilities.
En the history of Estonia, the St John’s at St Petersburg and its congregation have played an outstanding role. It was in front of the St John’s that in March 1917 the demonstration and procession of nearly 40,000 Estonians started, leading up to Tauride Palace and demanding autonomy to Estonia within Tsarist Russia. Autonomy was indeed achieved – a large step towards Estonia’s independence a year later.
It was in St John’s that the famed Jakob Hurt served as minister, in the very place penning in 1888 the celebrated call for Estonians to collect national inheritance – a grandest endeavour by Estonians throughout the ages.