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Modern Estonia

Gallery: Churches of Harju County

by Peter Kessler, 27 September 2009

Part 4: Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Jõelähtme

St Mary's Church, Jõelähtme, Estonia

The Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Püha Neitsi Maarja kirik in 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.

St Mary's Church, Jõelähtme, Estonia

This stronghold church was built in the centre of the ancient Estonian parish of Revel (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 people in settlements spread throughout the parish.

St Mary's Church, Jõelähtme, Estonia

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.

St Mary's Church, Jõelähtme, Estonia

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 damage.

St Mary's Church, Jõelähtme, Estonia

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.

St Mary's Church, Jõelähtme, Estonia

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 churchyard.

All photos on this page kindly contributed by Aljona Kozlova, and additional editing to one photo by Dana Grohol.



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