We are in Estonia, where 330 wheel crosses, rõngasrist in Estonian, poke above the ground in a small cemetery on Vormsi island, some just barely visible above the tufts of grass, that look out of place amid the newer, more traditional designs found atop nearby plots. There are several stone crosses, forged and casted iron crosses, wooden crosses, but, to the south from the central road, are old stone wheel crosses that catch the eye.
The oldest one preserved in the cemetery is from 1743, the latest from 1923 and, because of their circle, they’re frequently referred to as Celtic crosses, despite the arms of the cross hardly extend beyond the circle, making the markers look more like the wheel crosses found in pre-Christian religious symbolism.
The unusual grave markers are leftover relics from when Estonian Swedes lived on the island, locals carved names, dates, family symbols, and other notes into the limestone and sandstone headstones.
This particular style of cross is unique in Estonia, and is only found within places settled by the Coastal Swedes.
Vormsi was inhabited by Estonian Swedes for much of its history, from the 13th century up until World War II. Almost all of the island’s residents were either evacuate to or fled to Sweden during the war, and now only about 400 people live there.
A notable burial in Vormsi includes Hans Pöhl (1876- an Estonian politician, by nationality Estonian Swedes. From 1918 until 1919, he was Minister of Swedish-minority Affairs.
In addition to him, there is another memorial stones in the churchyard – the one for the Swedish missionary Osterblom who brought about fundamental changes in the local religious life.
Outside the churchyard you can see one of the few freedom monuments in Estonia which stood in its place through the whole of the Soviet era.