St. Katherine´s Church of Muhu

The church in Muhu was already mentioned in historical records in 1267, but it was probably the wooden church - the predecessor of the present church - that was referred to. The building of a stone church was not begun until the end of the l3th century. The walls of the nave were erected first. Then the choir was constructed and the nave vaulted. It follows the constructional pattern typical of the Osilia Bishopric, except for a small chevet that was added to the eastern side of the choir - a motif, which outside Muhu has only been found at Pühalepa in Hiiumaa. Inside the church there are beautifully hewn stone details bearing masons marks, which we can also find in Karja church. Some of the masters seem to have worked in both churches.

The absence of sculptural decor is quite noticeable here. However, the whole church has been decorated with mural paintings of the Last Judgement. Only fragments of these remain, most of them in the choir. Between 1969 and 1974 the murals were exposed and restored, although not very successfully. Today, most of them are still at risk. In 1941 the church was damaged in a fire and was not roofed until 1956 - 1959. With the help of some Swedish congregations, the church was restored and consecrated again in May 1994.

Among the objects preserved was the Renaissance pulpit dating from 1629 (carpenter B. Raschky). Nommen Lorenzen made the altarpiece in 1827, a master from Kuressaare. The restored altar painting Calvary dates from the l7th century. A unique trapezoid tombstone has been incorporated into the construction of the stairwell in the western wall.

The western portal
There is a round-shaped torus running all the way round the flat-arched main portal. The bases supporting it are adorned with miniature brackets. These details, which can also be seen on the main portals of Karja and Pöide churches, suggest that the same masters participated in the construction of all the three churches.

An arch flanked by a column, which has an archaic diamond-shaped capital, unites the choir and the chevet. These Romanesque details are representative of the so-called counter Gothic, a retrospective style of the Middle Ages. They can be found in Karja church as well.

The northeastern end of the choir
On a background of smooth plaster surfaces a number of architectural elements hewn in dolomite can be seen. A capital with miniature consoles supports the vault ribs. The rectangular apse is surrounded with slender columns.

Here as well, we can see the remains of some murals: angels with censers in the apse and a painting of Abraham above the sacrament recess in the eastern wall. A similar recess in the northern wall of the choir is a later addition and has features of Central European late Gothic, already familiar from Valjala and Kuressaare.

The painted rose window on the western wall
(Reconstructed by T. Parmakson).
The illusory rose window is older than the figural paintings. It has been painted on a fresh plaster surface (al fresco) as opposed to the al secco technique used for most of the figures. The composition is of French early Gothic style and is quite rare in the Middle Ages.

Murals on the northern wall of the choir
Most of the murals that have been preserved are situated on the northern wall of the choir. Here, seven figures are depicted in an architectural framing. According to the accompanying text, the figure on the intrados of the window is the prophet Habakuk. The Latin cross - a cross with a vertical bar - is the attribute of both John the Baptist and the apostle Philip. The key belongs to Peter, and the other figures are probably the remaining apostles who form part of the Last Judgement composition. The murals were partially restored in the course of restoration work in the 1970s.

The chevet at the end of the choir is probably modelled on that of the Cistercian monasteries. It is an impressive addition.

The trapezoid tombstone
A remarkable trapezoid tombstone has been walled into the lintel of the western wall of the stairwell. The decorative element might be interpreted as a tree of life or a tree of the world, a symbol of the axis of the world, representing the passing from one world to the other. We can also see the figure of a primitive warrior with a spear and a ritualistic horn. There has been argument about the possible date of the tombstone. It is likely that this tombstone - as well as the one in Muhu - dates back to the pre-Conquest period.