“Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile,” said Billy Sunday, the American evangelist. While that is entirely true, going to church with a crew and camera could make you a filmmaker who needs to shoot a scene or two in a godly (and architecturally compelling) location.
Then consider Estonia, a country that has pretty much any religious building you can imagine–from wooden Scandinavian-style structures to colossal gothic cathedrals. And if you need a sign from God or another spiritual inspiration, you’ll find free Wi-Fi throughout Estonia—even in churches. Another fun fact? While Estonia has a bit over 350 sanctuaries (one for about every 3,750 people), only 25% of the population is actually affiliated with a particular religion, so that keeps the crowds down.
The most recognizable Estonian church is probably St. Olaf’s in the Old Town section of Tallinn, the capital. According to sometimes-reliable sources that some Estonians believe, St. Olaf’s Church was the tallest building in the world from 1549 to 1625. True or not, the building was indeed the center of old Tallinn’s Scandinavian community before Denmark conquered the city in 1219. It may be hard to believe, but St. Olaf’s steeple has been hit by lightning over a dozen times, and the church has burned to the ground at least three times—and survived. So it should survive a noisy movie crew, if not another fire. And if you are planning a biopic of pétroleuses (French arsonists), the setting would be perfect..
Another church you might want to consider for a movie set, if only for its fabulous name, is the Kallaste “Old Believers’ Prayer House of the Estonian Association of Old Believers’ Congregations.” This architecturally unique house of God was built in 1802, and the leaders of Old Believers’ congregations met there from the 1920s to 1940s, a tradition that has recently been revived.
If unique and dynamic architecture inspires you, you must not miss the Church of the Ascension of Our Lord in Uruste, Pärnu County, a couple of hours from the Tallinn airport. The building itself is shaped like the Greek cross with a foyer and central dome. Although it has no bell tower, it does have bells, and there are many captivating details here in the forms of icons, crosses, and unique wooden fabrications.
If your script requires a small neo-classical church with an 1867 organ (what doesn’t?), be sure to head to Kõpu, a sleepy borough near Viljandi in southern Estonia. Here, you will find St. Peter’s Church, a stunning building with antique shapes and brick floors. Kõpu is also close to Soomaa National Park, an area covered by vast swamps and inhabited by huge flocks of feathered creatures, enabling you to kill two birds with one stone (if you like) and create your “The Birds” remake!
The Bible tells us to love our neighbors as well as our enemies. According to Gilbert Keith Chesterton, an English writer, poet, and philosopher, they may also be the same people! As a movie maker, you should, right now, include Estonians among your friends, as there is no way an adversary would offer such enchanting movie locations. To sweeten the pot, Estonia has a generous cash-rebate offer, enabling your productions to earn as much as 30% on eligible costs.
Used photos: Visit Estonia