The Russian Orthodox Cathedral of Alexander Nevsky sits in pride of place at Lossi plats 10, on the top of
Toompea (Dome Hill) in Tallinn, overlooking the Old Town. Situated
opposite the country's parliament building, the cathedral was
erected between 1894-1900 on a grass square which had previously
held a memorial to Protestant reformist Martin Luther. Local
tradition also stated that the Estonian national hero, Kalevipoeg
was said to have been buried in the square.
In October 1897, Bishop Agafangel (1858-1928) was
appointed to the cathedra of Riga and Mitava. At this time the
Baltic States were controlled by the Russian Empire, and the
Orthodox Church was involved in a concerted effort to repopulate the
Baltics with Orthodox places of worship, following their dismissal
at the conclusion of the Livonian Wars in the sixteenth century,
when all Russians had to leave the Baltics. The bishop now led the
movement to repopulate the region with Orthodox churches.
For the construction of the cathedral, voluntary
donations raised throughout the Russian Empire were combined with
funds from the state treasury to pay the 600 thousand rouble costs.
In 1898 Bishop Agafangel consecrated churches in Sillamäe and Valga,
and in 1900 he participated in the consecration ceremony for
Tallinn's Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, which was held on 30 April
1900. The cathedral's architect was Michail Preobrazhensky
(1854-1930), the adjunct-professor of the Academy of Arts.
The five-cupola three-altar cathedral itself was
dedicated to the Prince of Novgorod, Alexander Yaroslavitz Nevsky
who, on 5 April 1242, won the Battle of the Ice on the shores of
Lake Peipsi, which is part of Estonia's eastern border. This victory
halted the eastwards advance of the German crusaders. The cathedral
was built in the Russian revival style which mimicked medieval
Russian churches, and was a symbol of Imperial Russia's dominance in
The main body of the building, which can
accommodate 1500 people, was constructed in local limestone which
was bound with cement mortar and faced with Segersdorf bricks. The
collection of eleven bells form the most powerful ensemble in
Tallinn. They were cast at the Vassily Orlov bell foundry in St
Petersburg at total weight of about 27 tons. Such was the weight of
the biggest bell that it took 500 soldiers heaving on ropes to raise
it up to the belfry.
Estonia achieved independence in 1918,
nationalising many buildings which belonged to the nobility, and the
cathedral was lucky to escape demolition in 1924. During the period
of German occupation in 1941-1944 it was closed. Following the 1944
Soviet Russian invasion and re-occupation, church services were
resumed in May 1945 and the cathedral again became the focus of
Orthodox ecclesiastical life in Estonia.