History Files


Modern Estonia

Gallery: Churches of Tartu County

by Peter Kessler, 7 November 2010



Part 1: Churches of Tartu

St John's Lutheran Church

St John's Lutheran Church (Jaani kirik in Estonian) is located at Jaani 5, on the eastern side of the street in central Tartu, Estonia's second city. A wooden church existed on the site from a point in the second half of the twelfth century, probably part of the first wave of Christianisation in Dorpat (Tartu). A stone church was built probably in the first thirty years of the fourteenth century as a three-nave basilica. It was damaged in the Livonian Wars which started in 1558.

St John's Lutheran Church

During the blasting of Tartu in the Great Northern War in 1708, the upper part of the steeple and the vaults of the central nave and choir were destroyed. In 1820-1830 the building was reconstructed in the Classicistic style, with the windows being enlarged. In 1899-1904 the façade was restored under the supervision of W Bockslaff, but in 1944 the church burned during the Soviet offensive and remained a ruin until 1989-1997, when it was entirely rebuilt.

Uspensky Orthodox Cathedral

Uspensky Orthodox Cathedral (Jumalaema Uinumise (Uspenski) katedraal) is at Magasini 1, on the eastern side of the street. On this site, St Mary Magdalene's Church with its Dominican cloister was founded before 1300. That doubtless fell into decay following the Lutheran Reformation in 1525. The present church was built in 1783, during the early Classical period. The long priest house adjoining it on the northern side was rebuilt out of a six-apartment building in 1854-1855.

Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Pühima Neitsi Maarja Pärispatuta Saamise kirik) is at Veski 1a, on the north-west side of the street overlooking Jakobi street. Built in the neo-Historical style using red-brick, architect Wilhelm Schilling began the work in 1862 and the completed church was consecrated on 8 December 1899, as the Sinless Virgin Mary's Secret of Faith Church. It features a vaulted interior with stained glass windows.

Bishop's Cathedral

The Bishop's Cathedral or Dome Church (Toomkiriku) is at Lossi 25, in the centre of the heavily wooded Toomemägi (Dome Hill) park. A stronghold was built here about the sixth or seventh century, one of the largest constructions in ancient Estonia. In 1224, German Crusaders destroyed it and erected a bishop's castle in its place. On the northern end of the site the dome church was built (shown here), surrounded by a cemetery and houses for the cathedral chapter members.

Bishop's Cathedral

The bishop's castle and dome church were separated from the town by a strong wall. Dedicated to St Peter & St Paul, building of the church probably began in the late 1200s. In 1299, the choir and nave were in use. The high choir was finished in its current form only in the 1470s, which is when the large twin towers were also built. During the Livonian Wars the church was damaged and by 1700 crops and hay were being stored here. In 1806, the choir was rebuilt as a library.

St Luke's Methodist Church

St Luke's Methodist Church (Püha Luuka kirik) is at Vallikraavi 16a, on the approach to the dome hill. The beginning of Methodism in Estonia is traditionally dated to 9 June 1907, but this church is a modern construction. It was designed by Indrek Allmann and built on a site which once belonged to the well-known professor of surgery, Zoege von Manteuffel. In 2002 the church won an award for being the best new building in Tartu. It was consecrated in the same year.

New Apostolic Church of Estonia

The New Apostolic Church of Estonia (Uusapostlik Kirik Eestis) is at Veski 40, a quiet suburban street. The church is set well back, behind a leafy garden. The Apostolic Orthodox church looks to Constantinople for guidance, but all its property was lost during the Soviet period. Only in the last two decades has the church been able to regain a small part of that property. This building was probably put up at the start of the twenty-first century as a much-needed addition.

Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Maarja koguduse maja) is at Õpetaja 5. Sometimes referred to simply as St Mary's Church, the building that is used as the church today was formerly the church hall. The church itself was built in the neo-Classical style in 1836-1841 to a design by architect G F W Geist. Consecrated on 11 January 1842, the stone building was the first church built for an Estonian congregation (instead of a German or Russian congregation) in Tartu.

Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Major renovations were undertaken in 1862, and alterations were made in 1889. The church was badly burned during the Second World War. Only the walls remained standing. During the Soviet occupation permission to rebuild it was refused and it was turned into a university gym. It has remained one ever since. The parish converted the former church hall into a replacement, but by 2009 there were signs that the old church could once again be restored for use.

In Depth
In Depth


Images and text copyright © all contributors mentioned on this page. An original feature for the History Files.