Familienkapellen auf dem Kirchhof und dem Gutshoffriedhof


  • Reet Pius




Cemetery Reform of Catherine the Great, cemetery architecture, cemetery park, chapels, Baltic German family manors, family cemetery, Barclay De Tolly, Enlightenment, Jacques Delille, Christian Cajus Lorentz Hirschfeld, August Wilhelm Hupel


The 1772 cemetery reform of Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia, resulted in great changes in the cemetery culture of Russia’s Baltic provinces. The ban on burials in churches and the vicinity of churches resulted in the rapid development of cemetery parks outside of settlements. The strong political relations of Estonia’s manor owners with the Russian central government resulted in the nobles being given the privilege to establish burial plots in the churchyards, but in Livonia, this was strictly prohibited. Simultaneously with the parish cemeteries, the owners of private manors established family cemeteries on their manors. The new cemeteries were not only places to bury the dead, but, inspired by contemporary poets, they were seen as family altars, which were visited regularly and which was accessed by path that was attuned to contemplation.

The cemetery is complex, which includes a garden, chapel and allée, and if possible, a body of water. Noble trees were planted along the path leading to the cemetery. Oaks were preferred, which due their mighty shape were considered to be the symbol of family and nobility. Influenced by the poetry of the Enlightenment, evergreens – silver firs, thuja trees, and spruces – were called “sad trees”. The French poet Jacques Delille, whose works were popular among the Baltic Germans, sees women as mourners. And many family cemeteries were established at the initiative of women. Examples of Ancient Greek architecture, in the form of temples with porticos or antas, or the small-scale copies of the Pantheon from Ancient Rome, dominated in cemetery architecture. The chapel was comprised of underground burial chambers and above-ground memorials. A so-called memorial altar was located in the end wall of the chapel, which have survived until the present day in a few places. The Barclay de Tolly monument is the most majestic in Estonia.

Already in the 1830s, the family chapels became memorials and burials no longer took place there. However, chapels continued to be built until in Estonia until the early 20th century.


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Author Biography

Reet Pius

Reet Pius (until 2012 Rast, b. 1964) is a PhD student at the University of Tartu. Her current research subject is the Lutheran sacral art of the Enlightenment in Estonia and Livonia. Previously, she dealt with the church art of the Early Modern period. From 1987 to 1995, was the head of the Painting and Polychromy Department at the Kanut Restoration Centre; from 1995 to 2009, the Coordinator of Research Work at the Art Museum of Estonia. Co-author of History of Estonian Art 2 (2005) with the theme “Altarpiece – Lord’s Table and object of prestige. Altar Art in Estonia during the Early Modern Period.“