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Gallery: Churches of Harju County
by Peter Kessler, 27 September 2009
Part 4: Church of the Blessed Virgin
The Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Püha
Neitsi Maarja kirikin Estonian), Jõelähtme, is one of the
oldest churches in Estonia, located about fifteen kilometres east
of Tallinn. The original wooden church was probably founded at the
start of the 1220s, during the Danish period in North Estonia. In
1241, a Jõelähtme church devoted to the Virgin Mary was first
mentioned in writing, and according to the medieval liege system,
it belonged to Tallinn's Dome Church.
This stronghold church was built in the centre of
the ancient Estonian parish of Repel (the original Harju County), which
later became a somewhat smaller church parish called Jõelähtme. That parish
survives to this day. The church's own information plaque notes that
the term, 'halfway house', is highly accurate when used in relation
to this church as it lies between larger villages and was therefore
accessible to all the people in settlements spread throughout the parish.
The church acquired its present outer appearance
during three major construction stages, in the end obtaining a
traditional 'triple jump' silhouette group. First, during the second
half of the fourteenth century, the wooden church was replaced by a
stone construction which had a ground plan that coincides only with
the present longitudinal building. It is this version of the church
that is sometimes claimed as being the original building.
At the beginning of the fifteenth century, a
square-shaped choir room was added. In 1878, the church underwent a
profound level of reconstruction work that noticeably altered it.
Pillars that initially had four faces were turned into eight-faced
pillars by trimming off their corners. The vaults were reshaped and
the windows were fashioned in the typical Gothic style. In 1910 the
church suffered a serious fire which caused a considerable amount of
Reconstruction work gave the church the appearance
it has today. A massive west tower was added in the neo-Gothic style
in 1912, being constructed to replace the gable tower that had been
lost in the fire. The vestry, which had been located on the north side
of the church, and the beggar room on the south side, were both
demolished. The shape and size of the windows were also altered - the
northern wall was without any windows at all to start with.
Some valuable art memorials have been preserved
from the church's earlier days, such as a Renaissance-style pulpit
built by Tobias Heintze in 1639, and a Baroque altar which was made,
probably by Michael Brinckmann, in 1670. Gustav Heinrich Schüdlöffel
(1798-1859), a figure from Estonian literary history, was the former
chief of the Cathedral School in Tallinn when he came to serve the
congregation between 1829 and his death. He was buried in the
All photos on this page contributed by Aljona
Kozlova, and additional editing to one photo by