St Mary's Cathedral

Tallinn, Estonia

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 one. The monks were killed in a conflict between the Knights of the Sword and vassals supporting the Pope’s legate in 1233 and the church was contaminated. A letter asking permission to consecrate it anew was sent to Rome in 1233 and this is the first record of the church’s existence.

The building was completed in 1240 and it was a one-aisled building with a rectangular chancel. In 1240 it was also named cathedral and consecrated in honour of Virgin Mary. In the beginning of 14th century, reconstructions of the church began with building a new chancel. The enlargement of the one-aisled building to a three-aisled building began in the 1330s. The construction work however lasted almost 100 years and the new, longitudinal, part of the church was completed in the 1430s. The nave’s rectangular pillars had been completed in the second half of the 14th century, though.

The church was greatly damaged in the great fire of 1684 when the entire wooden furnishing was destroyed. Some vaults collapsed and many stone-carved details were greatly damaged- especially in the chancel. In 1686, after the fire, the church was practically restored to what it had been before. Pulpit with figures of the apostles (1686) and the altarpiece (1696) were made by Estonian sculptor and carver Christian Ackermann.

The Dome Church’s exterior dates from the 15th century, the spire dates from the 18th century. Most of the church’s furnishings goes back to the 17th and 18th centuries. From 1778 to 1779 a new baroque spire was built in the western part of the nave.

One should also mention a numerous sum of different kinds of tombstones from 13th –18th century, the stone-carved sarcophagi from the 17th century, also the altar and chancel, chandeliers, numerous coats-of arms from the 17th – 20th centuries. Two of the church’s four bells date back to 17th century, two date to the 18th century. The organ was made in 1914.

Among the people buried in the cathedral are the Bohemian nobleman Jindrich Matyas Thurn, one of leaders of Protestant revolt against emperor Ferdinand II and in events that lead to the Thirty Years War, Swedish soldier Pontus De la Gardie and his wife Sophia (John III's daughter), as well as the Scotsman Samuel Greig (formerly Samuil Karlovich Greig of the Russian Navy) and the Russian navigator Adam Johann von Krusenstern.

Reference: Wikipedia


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Founded: 1229
Category: Religious sites in Estonia
Historical period: Danish and Livonian Order (Estonia)

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User Reviews

Rene Schildt (6 months ago)
St. Mary's Cathedral in Tallinn is an absolute must-visit for anyone exploring this charming city. Stepping into this historical marvel feels like entering a timeless portal to Estonia's rich past. The cathedral's awe-inspiring architecture is a testament to centuries of history and craftsmanship. The intricate details of the interior, from the majestic altar to the beautiful stained glass windows, are simply breathtaking. The serene atmosphere within its walls invites quiet contemplation and a sense of reverence. The panoramic views from the cathedral's tower are a highlight not to be missed. The climb might be a bit challenging, but the breathtaking vistas of Tallinn's Old Town and beyond are absolutely worth it. The skyline dotted with red rooftops and medieval spires is a sight that remains etched in memory. Moreover, the cathedral's central location makes it easily accessible, allowing travelers to incorporate it seamlessly into their Tallinn itinerary. Whether you're a history enthusiast, an architecture lover, or simply seeking a moment of tranquility, St. Mary's Cathedral is a cultural gem that promises an enriching experience for all who visit. A visit to Tallinn wouldn't be complete without immersing oneself in the beauty and heritage that St. Mary's Cathedral embodies. It's an absolute must-see destination that leaves an indelible mark on every traveler's journey.
Le Duy Bui (6 months ago)
The cathedral is beautiful but the access to the tower was closed (not sure why but perhaps it is the winter). The lady at the ticket charged me €5 for the ticket while she charged others €2. Initially I thought they had changed the price, thus I paid without hesitation. I also noticed that she gave all the tourists before a brochure with info of the church but she did not give me one. She was quite cold to me and I thought perhaps it was their custom. But later on, I found out that other people paid €2 (as I asked another tourist there). Since it is not much so I didn’t want to make a scene. I considered the rest as the donations to the church but I had to downvote the rating since the access was closed, I got overcharged, and I felt hostile there.
Grace DeLasFuentesS (13 months ago)
I really like this church. It is pretty different than others. On Saturday at 12 pm, there's an organ recital. The entrance is 2€ and Saturday for the organ recital 4€.
Bharathi Mani (15 months ago)
Beautiful church and the walk up the tower is well worth it. The climb up is 143 steps. The space is narrow but not too bad. There is a rope you can hold on to for support. The views are breathtaking from the top. The exterior is white washed and beautiful in an austere way. The interior of the church is very different, many coats of arms.
Tanya H (17 months ago)
A beautiful cathedral in my beloved old town. Yesterday I enjoyed Bachfest concert there, organ and trumpet were singing and the music raised us to heaven. It gets a bit chilly, be sure to dress warmly.
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