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Modern Estonia

Gallery: Churches of Tallinn

by Peter Kessler, 26 July 2009

Part 5: Churches of Vanalinn

The St Charles XI Church, Tallinn, Estonia

The St Charles XI Church (Kaarli kirik in Estonian) lies just outside the Old Town, on a site called Tõnismägi (the Hill of Tõnis) at the southern base of Toompea. St Anthony's Chapel and a graveyard were located on the site of the church by the 1300s, presumably for the local non-German community. The first full church on the site was consecrated on the 4th Advent of 1670, after King Charles XI of Sweden (1660-1696) ordered a wooden church to be built in a Greek cross style.

Kaarli kirik, Tallinn

The Great Northern War in 1700-1721 saw Russian troops outside Tallinn's city walls in August 1710. Many of the buildings outside the wall were burnt down, including the church. Its destruction weakened local parish life within a couple of decades, with parishioners either going to the Church of the Holy Ghost in the Old Town or further afield to Jõelähtme (around twenty kilometres east of the city) or Keila (about the same distance to the south-west).

The St Charles XI Church

Congregations had increased by the 1850s. A cornerstone was laid for the present church on 18 October 1862 and it was completed in 1882 according to a design by Otto Pius Hippius from St Petersburg, who had strong Estonian connections. The organ was fitted in 1884. The first service was held before that, on 20 December 1870, exactly two hundred years after the consecration of the first church on the site. Finishing touches were added over the next few years.

St John's Church, Tallinn, Estonia

St John's Church (Jaani kirik) sits in Freedom Square (Vabaduse väljak), on the border between the Old Town and Kesklinn. The three-aisled church was built for the Church of the Holy Ghost's excess congregation - it was always too small for the parish church for around 14,000 Estonians in Vanalinn. A collection started in 1851, and magistrates with church patronage rights gave the new building a site outside the town walls, on a plot that had belonged to the Domguild.

Jaani kirik, Tallinn

The neo-Gothic building was designed by Christoph August Gabler (1820-1884), Estonia's Tallinn-born provincial architect from 1859 onwards. The work took five years (1862-1867). The toughest stage was the first, when the foundations were laid in soft ground which had formerly been a moat. To reinforce them, tens of thick oak trunks were rammed into the ground. The cornerstone was laid on 8 September 1862 and the church was named after St John the Evangelist.

St John's Church

The surrounding land was built up from the end of the 1800s, culminating in the square which existed until extensive modifications of 2007-2010. Unfortunately the new art deco and functional buildings sharply contrasted with the neo-Gothic church, so in 1936 the government decided the church would have to be pulled down. The plan was thwarted by the war and by occupation. Although demolition was again mooted in the 1950s, the church survives to this day.

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