Toward the end of my trip to Russia, Estonia and Finland this summer, I visited the more than thousand year-old walled city of Tallinn, Estonia, crowning the Toompea Hill and overlooking the Bay of Finland. It was conquered by the Danish King Waldemar II in 1219 and became a medieval merchant town and then a majestic Gothic city during the Middle Ages, known as the greatest burg in northern Europe. Subjected to Sweden and Russia in following centuries the beautiful medieval Old Town remained virtually untouched until the 19th century when a more modern Tallinn started to develop and expand below the citadel.
Tourists today are enamored by the charm of the narrow winding streets, medieval Town Hall, residential homes, churches, guild houses, and the ancient town wall preserved in more than half its length even today.
I spent several days wandering the lanes discovering shops with wonderful handicrafts for sale, taking pictures of ornate doorways and leaning buildings, and tasting elk soup with friends.
The last day before departing on the ferry to Helsinki, Finland, a small group of us visited a monastery at 22 Laboratooriumi Street and were greeted by the parish priest, a monk called Volodymyr Palijenko, who proudly showed us around. He presides over the Church of the Blessed Virgin With the Three Hands, which is a Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. This Holy Mother is the protector of the innocent who have been wrongly convicted, deceived and sinned against, and there is a slot in the stone wall outside the church where people can leave a letter and the priest will pray for settlement of their problem.
Our group was led into the main room where worshipers gather and our guide translated for the monk who explained that this monastery also serves as a Ukrainian cultural center which showcases handmade crafts, but, little did I know, a huge and thrilling shock was awaiting me.
In my book, SHE HAD TO KNOW, the setting is in a 17th century Scottish castle that had been a monastery in medieval times, so I was curious to see if this European monastery had any similarities.
Monk Volodymyr walked to the back of the room in which we were gathered and I heard what sounded like chains clanking and some mechanical mechanism moving. When I turned to look back, I saw the center floor moving forward and disappearing into a pocket of space in front of the altar. In place of the floor, a huge hole was revealed. Railings went up to protect the hole and a stone stairway leading downward was visible. I couldn’t believe my eyes! I had written a similar concept in my book! I have an architect friend who assured me my floor could actually have worked the way I described, but my story was fiction. Here I was witnessing a true life floor in a monastery moving and revealing rooms below. This was like a déjà vu moment for me! And to think some of my readers thought I had a pretty vivid imagination!
Our group was then led through the monk’s workshops where wooden toys and paper and books were made and hand decorated Ukrainian eggs and icons were painted and displayed. We were led up and down narrow spiral stairs (like in my book) with tiny windows to light the way and eventually out into the courtyard. This place was so like my book, I had the shivers! I’ll never forget this experience as long as I live.
Did I say I’ll never forget this experience as long as I live? Have you ever had a déjà vu moment concerning a setting in your book? I’d love to know. (Note: click on photos to enlarge).