Padise Monastery was a former Cistercian monastery. It was founded in 1310 by the dispossessed monks of Dünamünde Abbey in Latvia. King Eric VI of Denmark gave them permission to build a fortified monastery in Padise, where they moved in 1310, although construction of the stone buildings did not begin until 1317.
By 1343, at the time of the St. George's Night Uprising, when it was still only partly built, the monastery was burnt down and 28 monks, lay brothers and German vassals were killed. Rebuilding began in 1370. By 1445 all major works, including the construction of the gatehouse and the residential and service buildings, had been completed, and vaulting had been added to the church roof. The consecration of the main building took place in 1448.
Around the year 1400 Padise monastery had acquired extensive estates in Estonia and also in southern Finland and throughout the 15th century enjoyed a period of great prosperity and influence as one of the most important spiritual centres of Estonia. It began however to sell off its lands and entered a period of decline in the beginning 16th century. Nevertheless it survived the upheavals of the Reformation in the 1520s.
In the Livonian War, the last Master of the Livonian Order, Gotthard Kettler, fearing after the invasion of the Russians that the Swedes would occupy the monastery, occupied it himself in 1558, and in 1559 dissolved it, ejecting the monks and confiscating the buildings and estates. He converted the monastery itself into a fortress, which the Swedes duly took in 1561. In 1576 the Russians besieged and took it, and during their occupation strengthened the fortifications, but four years later were in their turn besieged by the returning Swedes, who regained it in 1580 after a long siege and a damaging bombardment.
In 1622 King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden gave the estates of the former Padise monastery to Thomas Ramm, Burgermeister of Riga, in the possession of whose family it remained until 1919. Ramm converted the premises into a Baroque country house. When in 1766 it was struck by lightning and burnt down, the Ramms used the stone to build a Neo-Classical manor house nearby.
The remaining buildings, which were stabilised in the 1930s, are now used as a museum. A comprehensive restoration of the former monastery complex was agreed in 2001.
From 1239, Raynaud, the Bishop of Quimper, decided on the building of a new chancel destined to replace that of the Romanesque era. He therefore started, in the far west, the construction of a great Gothic cathedral which would inspire cathedral reconstructions in the Ile de France and would in turn become a place of experimentation from where would later appear ideas adopted by the whole of lower Brittany. The date of 1239 marks the Bishop’s decision and does not imply an immediate start to construction. Observation of the pillar profiles, their bases, the canopies, the fitting of the ribbed vaults of the ambulatory or the alignment of the bays leads us to believe, however, that the construction was spread out over time.
The four circular pillars mark the start of the building site, but the four following adopt a lozenge-shaped layout which could indicate a change of project manager. The clumsiness of the vaulted archways of the north ambulatory, the start of the ribbed vaults at the height of the south ambulatory or the choice of the vaults descending in spoke-form from the semi-circle which allows the connection of the axis chapel to the choir – despite the manifest problems of alignment – conveys the hesitancy and diverse influences in the first phase of works which spread out until the start of the 14th century.
At the same time as this facade was built (to which were added the north and south gates) the building of the nave started in the east and would finish by 1460. The nave is made up of six bays with one at the level of the facade towers and flanked by double aisles – one wide and one narrow (split into side chapels) – in an extension of the choir arrangements.
The choir presents four right-hand bays with ambulatory and side chapels. It is extended towards the east of 3-sided chevet which opens onto a semi-circle composed of five chapels and an apsidal chapel of two bays and a flat chevet consecrated to Our Lady.
The three-level elevation with arches, triforium and galleries seems more uniform and expresses anglo-Norman influence in the thickness of the walls (Norman passageway at the gallery level) or the decorative style (heavy mouldings, decorative frieze under the triforium). This building site would have to have been overseen in one shot. Undoubtedly interrupted by the war of Succession (1341-1364) it draws to a close with the building of the lierne vaults (1410) and the fitting of stained-glass windows. Bishop Bertrand de Rosmadec and Duke Jean V, whose coat of arms would decorate these vaults, finished the chancel before starting on the building of the facade and the nave.
Isolated from its environment in the 19th century, the cathedral was – on the contrary – originally very linked to its surroundings. Its site and the orientation of the facade determined traffic flow in the town. Its positioning close to the south walls resulted in particuliarities such as the transfer of the side gates on to the north and south facades of the towers: the southern portal of Saint Catherine served the bishop’s gate and the hospital located on the left bank (the current Préfecture) and the north gate was the baptismal porch – a true parish porch with its benches and alcoves for the Apostles’ statues turned towards the town, completed by an ossuary (1514).
The west porch finds its natural place between the two towers. The entire aesthetic of these three gates springs from the Flamboyant era: trefoil, curly kale, finials, large gables which cut into the mouldings and balustrades. Pinnacles and recesses embellish the buttresses whilst an entire bestiary appears: monsters, dogs, mysterious figures, gargoyles, and with them a whole imaginary world promoting a religious and political programme. Even though most of the saints statues have disappeared an armorial survives which makes the doors of the cathedral one of the most beautiful heraldic pages imaginable: ducal ermine, the Montfort lion, Duchess Jeanne of France’s coat of arms side by side with the arms of the Cornouaille barons with their helmets and crests. One can imagine the impact of this sculpted decor with the colour and gilding which originally completed it.
At the start of the 16th century the construction of the spires was being prepared when building was interrupted, undoubtedly for financial reasons. Small conical roofs were therefore placed on top of the towers. The following centuries were essentially devoted to putting furnishings in place (funeral monuments, altars, statues, organs, pulpit). Note the fire which destroyed the spire of the transept cross in 1620 as well as the ransacking of the cathedral in 1793 when nearly all the furnishings disappeared in a « bonfire of the saints ».
The 19th century would therefore inherit an almost finished but mutilated building and would devote itself to its renovation according to the tastes and theories of the day.