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Church installs altar window illegally

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PHOTO: Peeter Lilleväli / Põhjarannik

Archbishop of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church (EELK) Urmas Viilmaa sanctified the new stained-glass altar window of Lüganuse church by well-known artist Andrei Lobanov last Sunday. The only problem is that the congregation forgot to notify the heritage protection watchdog of work done on the protected building and could now be looking at sanctions.

The sanctuary of EELK Lüganuse John the Baptist Church was full of tools, scaffolding, and construction trash last Thursday. Builders were applying plaster to the wall around the icon. Artist Riho Hütt's window that used to adorn the altar was propped up against the north wall of the sanctuary, facing inward – waiting for installation onto the wall where it will be displayed under halogen lights.

Deacon Tõnis Tamm said that the new stained-glass window was made because deputy chairman of the board and CTO of Viru Keemia Grupp, member of the congregation Meelis Eldermann wanted to give the church a gift that would beautify it and invite people in.

“Meelis proposed he would give the congregation a stained-glass window to fit its medieval architecture. The window is the first thing a person sees when they walk in the door – it lets in light that then falls on the church's big crucifix. Light from the East lets us participate in Christ's victory,” Tamm said.

The window depicts Jesus crucified in the middle, Mother of God and disciple John on the left, and John the Baptist, after whom the congregation is named, on the right. The image is allegorical in that John the Baptist was beheaded some time before Jesus' crucifixion.

Tamm said that because the church building is very damp, the lower part of the frame of the previous window had degenerated – that was also replaced. The church sought the help of Ulvar Kullerkupp whose carpentry gave the new frames a one hundred year guarantee so to speak – the work was accomplished using oak and modern impregnating agents.

The deacon pointed out that the new window and work to install it has relied on donations.

It turns out, however, that the congregation did not have a permit for the work from the Estonian National Heritage Board. Senior inspector for the board in Ida-Viru County, Kalle Merilai, said that the church presented the board with its activity plan after the fact. The board has now prepared an inspection act and is reviewing the said plan. Next, it will collect letters of explanation from involved persons and demand a national heritage report on the work done.

“We will not be issuing a permit for the work retroactively. We will not assess the aesthetic result of the work, that is up to the church's art council. Sanctions will probably follow. It remains a complicated matter how to punish violators in such cases – the eventual punishment could be for failure to comply with requirements work carried out in a building under heritage protection must correspond to according to the heritage protection act. Theoretically, we could order the church to redo the work, in addition to fines and penalty payments – it all depends on the results of the inspection,” Merilai said.

Põhjarannik asked the author of the previous window, Riho Hütt, for his opinion. Hütt sighed deeply in reply and said he would prefer not to comment. He added, however, that it would have been proper to consult him whether he agrees to his window being on display on the north wall. What is the extent of the author's rights in connection with how his work is displayed. A lot of questions remain.

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