Medieval churches in Estonia

The Church of Holy Spirit

The Church of Holy Spirit is the only sacred building from 14th-century Tallinn preserved its original form. The church was originally founded as part of the neighbouring Holy Spirit Almshouse, which tended to the town's sick and elderly. Throughout Medieval times it remained the primary church of the common folk. First Estonian-language sermons were held there, and the famous Livonian chronicler Balthasar Russow work ...
Founded: 1319 | Location: Tallinn, Estonia

St Mary's Cathedral

St Mary’s Cathedral was originally established by Danes on 13th century and it is the oldest church in Tallinn and mainland Estonia. It is also the only building in Toompea which survived a 17th century fire. The first church was made of wood and built there most likely already in 1219 when the Danes invaded Tallinn. In 1229 when the Dominican monks arrived, they started building a stone church replacing the old wooden ...
Founded: 1229 | Location: Tallinn, Estonia

St. Nicholas Church

St. Nicholas' Church (Niguliste kirik) is a medieval church in Tallinn. The church is dedicated to Saint Nicholas, the patron of the fishermen and sailors. It was founded and built around 1230-1275 by Westphalian merchants, who came from Gotland in the 13th century. While the city was still unfortified, the church had heavy bars for closing the entrances, loopholes and hiding places for refugees. When the fortificatio ...
Founded: 1230-1270 | Location: Tallinn, Estonia

St. Olaf's Church

St. Olaf’s Church (Oleviste kirik) is believed to have been built in the 12th century and to have been the centre for old Tallinn's Scandinavian community prior to the conquest of Tallinn by Denmark in 1219. Its dedication relates to King Olaf II of Norway (a.k.a. Saint Olaf, 995-1030). The first known written records referring to the church date back to 1267, and it was extensively rebuilt during the 14th century. ...
Founded: 1267 | Location: Tallinn, Estonia

Tartu Cathedral

Tartu Cathedral (Estonian Tartu toomkirik) is one of the landmarks of the city of Tartu. The building is now an imposing ruin overlooking the lower town. In the small part of it that has been renovated is now located the museum of the University of Tartu, which the university also uses for major receptions. The hill on which the cathedral later stood (Toomemägi or "cathedral hill") was one of the largest strongholds ...
Founded: 1250-1300 | Location: Tartu, Estonia

St John's Church

St. John's Church was probably built in the first third of the 14th century as a three-nave basilica. The church was damaged in the Russian- Livonian War in the 16th century; lightning has set its spire on fire several times. Some parts of the church were destroyed in the Great Nordic War in 1708. In the end of 19th century external walls of St. John's Church were cleaned of limewash, the original shape of the ch ...
Founded: 1300-1330 | Location: Tartu, Estonia

Rakvere Church of the Holy Trinity

The first church of Rakvere was built in 1430’s and sanctified to St. Michael. The dilapidated church was reconstructed between 1684-1891. The Rakvere church was damaged in the Great Northern War and restored in 1752 and again in 1850’s. The unusually high and slender spire was added during the last renovation. The beautiful pulpit was made by C. Ackermann in 1690 and the altar by Johann Rabe in 1730. Referen ...
Founded: 1430's | Location: Rakvere, Estonia

Põlva Church

The church of Blessed Virgin Mary was originally built in the early 13th century and it was probably the first stone church in Southern Estonia. The current stone church was built in the late 15th century to the grounds of the earlier church. It has been damaged in Livonian Wars and Great Northern War and restored later. The interesting details in the church are the old altar painting The Last Supper (1650) and the altar ...
Founded: 15th century | Location: Põlva, Estonia

St John's Church

The St John’s (Jaani) Church of Haapsalu was built during the restless reformation years during the early part of the 16th century (first mentioned in 1524), and initially it was dedicated to St Nicholas. The church is exceptionally laid out in a north-south bearing. The basement of the church was an ancient storage house. The church has a beautiful stone altar (17th century), a wooden pulpit (18th century) and one ...
Founded: 1524 | Location: Haapsalu, Estonia

Palamuse Church

The church of St. Bartholomew in Palamuse is one of the oldest medieval churches in southern Estonia. The three-nave church was probably completed in 1234. It was damaged heavily during Livonian Wars, but rebuilt in Baroque-style. Two medieval tombstones, baroque reredos and pulpit with several carvings (1696) are survived and visible in the church.
Founded: 1234 | Location: Palamuse, Estonia

Kihelkonna Church

The building of St. Michael’s church in Kihelkonna was probably started in the mid-13th century and completed between 1270-1290. In the early Middle Ages Kihelkonna was one of the most important centers in Saaremaa. It was situated on the road connecting the western part of Saaremaa with mainland Estonia. There was also a harbor of considerable importance here. Both the Bishop and the Livonian Order contributed to t ...
Founded: ca. 1250-1290 | Location: Saaremaa, Estonia

Harju-Madise Church

The first sanctuary on the site was a small wooden construction that was replaced by a stone construction in the 15th century. Because of the unique position on a high shore the church tower was also used as a lighthouse. The present appearance is mostly from 1500-1700’s. During reconstruction work in 1760-80, the choir, vestry and tower were added to the original building. In middle of nineteenth century the Bal ...
Founded: 15th century | Location: Padise, Estonia

St. Mary's Church

Märjamaa Church boasting lofty walls was built in the 14th century as the mightiest fortress-church in western Estonia. Its main characteristics are asceticism, simplicity, utility and quality. Its exceptionally high and thick walls used to be capped with balustrades. Märjamaa Church is the only fully preserved medieval church in Rapla County. The churchyard contains a Maltese stone cross dating from 1720 and b ...
Founded: 14th century | Location: Märjamaa, Estonia

Karja Church

The towerless Gothic style church of St. Catherine in Karja is the smallest church in Saaremaa island. The church was built in the late 13th or early 14th century. Although small, it is the one of the most beautiful churches in Saaremaa. The architectural design of the church is simple: a two bayed nave, a choir and a vestry. It is the sculptural decor that makes the church a real jewel. Its portals, bosses and vaulting s ...
Founded: 13-14th century | Location: Saaremaa, Estonia

Vormsi Church

According the legend the church of St. Olav in Vormsi was originally built in 1219 in the guidance of Valdemar II, the King of Denmark. Although, the oldest parts of the church has been dated to the year 1400 (approximately). It has been renovated and reconstructed several times, at least in 1632, 1772 and 1929. The St. Olav’s church is unique for the fact that it has no belfry; the bell hangs above the door under t ...
Founded: ca. 1400 | Location: Vormsi, Estonia

Saha Chapel

The chapel in Saha used to be one of the oldest ecclesiastical centres of Rävala Maakond (Shire). Originally, Saha Church was made of wood, it was burnt down around 1223. Four cult stones with small hollows dating from the 1st millennium BC, located close to the chapel indicate that it had been an ancient cult place. The current chapel was built by builders from Tallinn in the second quarter of the 15th century. Structu ...
Founded: 15th century | Location: Harjumaa, Estonia

Valjala Church

Saint Martin's Church of Valjala is the oldest church in Estonia. Immediately after the conquest of 1227, a stone chapel was erected by Teutonic knights in Valjala not far from the ancient stronghold. Its walls form the lower part of the present church choir. On the southern side of the chapel, there was a vestry. Soon after completion, the chapel was decorated with murals, the remaining fragments of which may be see ...
Founded: 1227 | Location: Saaremaa, Estonia

Järva-Peetri Church

The church of Peetri (St. Peter) is one of the biggest medieval churches in Järvamaa. It was built by the Livonian order in the 14th century. The church has the highest bell tower (built in 1868) of the Estonian churches. The interior is Neo-Gothic, the altar painting is painted by C. Greger. The wheel cross is from the 18th century. There are also two crucifixes from the 17th century and graves from 16th and 17th c ...
Founded: ca. 1300 | Location: Kareda Parish, Estonia

Nõo Church

The medieval church of St. Lawrence in Nõö is one of the oldest brick churches in Estonia. The oldest parts were constructed in the mid-13th century. The exterior has been modified at least in 15th and 19th centuries. The wooden tower was erected in 1819.
Founded: 1250's | Location: Nõo, Estonia

Karuse Church

Karuse church is one of the oldest sacral buildings in Läänemaa – it was built in the 1260s as a fortress-church for the Livonian Order. According the legend Otto von Lutterberg, a Master of the Livonian Order, has been buried in the church. He fell in a battle against Lithuanians, fought on sea ice near the church. Inside the church you should pay attention to the Baroque-style pulpit and altar. When wal ...
Founded: 1260's | Location: Hanila, Estonia

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Porta Nigra

The Porta Nigra (Latin for black gate) is the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps. It is designated as part of the Roman Monuments, Cathedral of St. Peter and Church of Our Lady in Trier UNESCO World Heritage Site. The name Porta Nigra originated in the Middle Ages due to the darkened colour of its stone; the original Roman name has not been preserved. Locals commonly refer to the Porta Nigra simply as Porta.

The Porta Nigra was built in grey sandstone between 186 and 200 AD. The original gate consisted of two four-storied towers, projecting as near semicircles on the outer side. A narrow courtyard separated the two gate openings on either side. For unknown reasons, however, the construction of the gate remained unfinished. For example, the stones at the northern (outer) side of the gate were never abraded, and the protruding stones would have made it impossible to install movable gates. Nonetheless, the gate was used for several centuries until the end of the Roman era in Trier.

In Roman times, the Porta Nigra was part of a system of four city gates, one of which stood at each side of the roughly rectangular Roman city. The Porta Nigra guarded the northern entry to the Roman city, while the Porta Alba (White Gate) was built in the east, the Porta Media (Middle Gate) in the south, and the Porta Inclyta (Famous Gate) in the west, next to the Roman bridge across the Moselle. The gates stood at the ends of the two main streets of the Roman Trier, one of which led north-south and the other east-west. Of these gates, only the Porta Nigra still exists today.

In the early Middle Ages the Roman city gates were no longer used for their original function and their stones were taken and reused for other buildings. Also iron and lead braces were broken out of the walls of the Porta Nigra for reuse. Traces of this destruction are still clearly visible on the north side of the gate.

After 1028, the Greek monk Simeon lived as a hermit in the ruins of the Porta Nigra. After his death (1035) and sanctification, the Simeonstift monastery was built next to the Porta Nigra to honor him. Saving it from further destruction, the Porta Nigra was transformed into a church: The inner court of the gate was roofed and intermediate ceilings were inserted. The two middle storeys of the former gate were converted into church naves: the upper storey being for the monks and the lower storey for the general public. The ground floor with the large gates was sealed, and a large outside staircase was constructed alongside the south side (the town side) of the gate, up to the lower storey of the church. A small staircase led further up to the upper storey. The church rooms were accessible through former windows of the western tower of the Porta Nigra that were enlarged to become entrance doors (still visible today). The top floor of the western tower was used as church tower, the eastern tower was leveled, and an apse added at its east side. An additional gate - the much smaller Simeon Gate - was built adjacent to the East side of the Porta Nigra and served as a city gate in medieval times.

In 1802 Napoleon Bonaparte dissolved the church in the Porta Nigra and the monastery beside it, along with the vast majority of Trier"s numerous churches and monasteries. On his visit to Trier in 1804, Napoleon ordered that the Porta Nigra be converted back to its Roman form. Only the apse was kept; but the eastern tower was not rebuilt to its original height. Local legend has it that Napoleon originally wanted to completely tear down the church, but locals convinced him that the church had actually been a Gaulish festival hall before being turned into a church. Another version of the story is that they told him about its Roman origins, persuading him to convert the gate back to its original form.

In 1986 the Porta Nigra was designated a World Heritage Site, along with other Roman monuments in Trier and its surroundings. The modern appearance of the Porta Nigra goes back almost unchanged to the reconstruction ordered by Napoleon. At the south side of the Porta Nigra, remains of Roman columns line the last 100 m of the street leading to the gate. Positioned where they had stood in Roman times, they give a slight impression of the aspect of the original Roman street that was lined with colonnades. The Porta Nigra, including the upper floors, is open to visitors.