Ruins of the Risti Church Manor (Arumõisa)

In 1649, members of the Risti congregation purchased two plots of farmland from local landowner Clas von Ramm, establishing the Risti Church Manor (Arumõisa).

Later, Gabriel Herlin (1647-1709), a Deacon at Risti Church, founded a rural folk school there, teaching in Estonian and Swedish. This school was intended for the sons of local farmers and villagers, starting humbly in a rustic barn. In 1683, Bengt Gottfried Forselius (1660?-1688), returned from his studies at Wittenberg University to join Herlin in this endeavor. Forselius, the son of Harju-Madise’s pastor Johann Forselius and Herlin’s brother-in-law, played a crucial role in the school’s development.

During the winter of 1683-84, fifty Estonian and Swedish boys gathered at Arumõisa School to learn from Forselius and Herlin. Their educational methods, which included an innovative aural approach to teaching reading based on techniques developed by Jan Komensky, soon spread across Estonia and Livonia. This initiative laid the foundation for standardizing written Estonian.

However, the work faced challenges. Herlin had to dispel rumors among the villagers that the boys, once literate, would be sent to war. He also clarified that the school was not a profit-making venture.

Based on their experiences at Arumõisa, Forselius began training teachers for village schools in the Tartu area in 1684. Two local students from Risti, Jõesuu Toomas from Harju-Madise and Uustalu Bengt (Bengt Adamson) from Risti, joined as teachers. Within a few years, approximately one hundred and sixty young Estonian boys had been trained, becoming either teachers themselves or clergy members.

In 1686, Forselius sought support from King Karl XI of Sweden, accompanied by Pakri Hansu Jüri and Ignatsi Jaak. The king responded by ordering the construction of schools in both Risti and Harju-Madise parishes and allocated funds to pay the teachers. By the summer of 1688, the Arumõisa School had a proper roof, and seventy-five boys had attended the school. In the broader community, many other children learned to read, with sixty in Harju-Madise and eighty-four in Risti. These children often taught others while performing their daily chores on the farms.

What motivated Herlin and Forselius? Perhaps it was the belief that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10), combined with the conviction that every child has the right to an education, regardless of their background.

Risti Church Manor and School in Later Years

In Risti parish, children’s education continued over the years. They learned to read, study the Bible, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer, and were confirmed in the parish.

Throughout the years, the children of Risti received their education in various school buildings within the parish. Today, the school in Harju-Risti continues to serve the district’s children.

During the Soviet era, the church manor was taken from the Risti congregation. The manor buildings were destroyed, and the congregation’s house was repurposed as a chicken farm for the local collective. In 1954, the rectory building was sold by the collective farm and dismantled, its logs used to construct the Munalaskme tractor station. In recent years, the building housed a nursing home but now stands abandoned in Munalaskme village.

The Risti congregation continues to offer Christian education at Risti Church and the nearby rectory in Harju-Risti village.

The ruins of Risti Church Manor (Arumõisa) are located near the village of Vilivalla in Harju County in Estonia. Here are the exact Google Maps coordinates.