History Files History Files
Donate add-in


Modern Estonia

Gallery: Churches of Tallinn

by Peter Kessler, 26 July 2009

Part 7: Church of the Holy Ghost

The Church of the Holy Ghost, Tallinn, Estonia

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.

Pühavaimu kirik, Tallinn

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 Church of the Holy Ghost

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.

The Church of the Holy Ghost

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 Church of the Holy Ghost

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 1877.

Theological Institute for the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church

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.

In Depth
In Depth


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