Tallinn’s Aleksandr Nevsky Cathedral sits atop Toompea Hill, dominating the city skyline. A picturesque landmark to visitors, it means a lot more than that to Estonians.
I cover my head with a shawl and make my way inside. A pungent smell of incense permeates the interior. A lady sits comfortably at a table behind an assortment of articles, among them candles and books, whose Russian script is clearly visible on the covers – to this day no books are sold here written in Estonian.
Built between 1894 and 1900, the church is a reminder of the country’s Russian occupation. The icons, intricate mosaics and 15-ton bell were imported from St Petersburg, and the building – somewhat provocatively – is named after Aleksandr Nevsky, who conquered Estonia in the 13th century.
A large older woman waddles towards the front of the cathedral, where she lights two candles, muttering prayers under her breath. A steady stream of worshippers move into a nearby room. Intrigued, I follow. An infant wails as he is immersed in water, his screams echoing throughout the room.
He is surrounded by men, women and children eager to witness his baptism. Some walk away; latecomers arrive, making their way to the front of the crowd.
I soon leave, feeling like an intruder on these intimate moments, and return outside to take a deep breath of fresh Baltic air.