The Church of the Holy Ghost is known
as Pühavaimu kirik in Estonian. It lies nestled in the very heart of
Tallinn's Old Town, behind the Old Apothecary and very close to the
Town Hall building, the historic seat of government in the Medieval
town. The Order of the Holy Ghost was established in 1200 by Pope
Innocentius III (1198-1216) to run hospitals and poorhouses
throughout Europe, concentrated in the Catholic world and known as
Holy Ghost hospices.
By 1400, Germany alone had 130 such hospices, by
which time their total number had reached about 900. Tallinn's Holy
Ghost church was built as a hospice church, to cater for the needs
of the patients in the next door Holy Ghost hospice. It operated
successfully for centuries, but its activities began to fade after
the Reformation in the sixteenth century. The hospice was closed
down in 1620. The earliest written records concerning the church
date to 1316, where they mention a clergyman and a church donation.
The building was probably built at the very
beginning of the fourteenth century, but may lay over a church which
predates the Teutonic crusades in the Baltics (Christianising the
pagan Balts was the main excuse for the crusade). The Medieval
building is the only one in Tallinn to have retained its original
style, being a two-nave main building with a single-nave choir
space. The twin naves are explained by the fact that this was the
town government church, so the wealthiest burgers sat on one side of
the church while the poor sat on the other.
An eight-sided tower which was completed in
around 1498 crowns the western end of the church. It is fitted with
a Baroque spire and a weather vane which carries the date 1688,
showing that it was rebuilt after the fire of 1684. Unfortunately,
another fire in 2002 claimed Estonia's oldest bell, from 1433. This
itself was a replacement, as in that year Tallinn burned down in a
major fire which destroyed much of the centre. The oldest surviving
bell now dates to 1638 and bears the inscription: 'The Lord's word
shall last forever'.
The oldest timepiece in Estonia, the attractive
clock which is embedded into the outside wall of the church, dates
to the seventeenth century. The main alter inside the church is a
highly decorated double-winged cupboard by Bernt Notke from 1483.
The small church's crowded congregation left for the newly built St
John's Church (in 1867) and St Charles XI Church (in 1870), and it
remained empty until the present congregation was established in
Connected to the church via an internal door is
the Theological Institute for the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran
Church. This is the building which served as the Holy Ghost hospice for treating the sickly and crippled
between its construction in around 1300 until its closure in 1620, after which it was converted into a girls school.
Before the Second World War it served as a retirement home, but with the help of the Church of North-Elbe and the Church of Finland,
it now has a church-related role again.