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Churches of Estonia

Gallery: Churches of Tallinn

by Peter Kessler, 26 July 2009. Updated 9 August 2019

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, with about nine hundred across Europe. Tallinn's Holy Ghost church was built as a hospice church, to cater for the needs of the patients in the Holy Ghost hospice next door. It operated successfully for centuries, but its activities began to fade in the 1500s after the Reformation. It was closed down in 1620. The earliest written records concerning the church date to 1316, mentioning a clergyman and a church donation.

The Church of the Holy Ghost

The church was probably built at the start of the 1300s, but may lay over one which predates the Teutonic crusades in the Baltics (Christianising pagans was the main excuse for the crusade). The building is the only one in Tallinn to have kept its original style with a twin main nave and a single-nave choir space. The twin naves are explained by the fact that this was the town government church, with the wealthiest burgers on one side of the church and the poor on the other.

The Church of the Holy Ghost

An eight-sided tower, completed around 1498, crowns the western end of the church. Fitted with a Baroque spire, the weather vane is dated 1688, showing that it was rebuilt after the fire of 1684. Unfortunately, another fire in 2002 claimed Estonia's oldest bell, from 1433. This was also a replacement, thanks to a major fire of that year which destroyed much of the town centre. The oldest surviving bell now dates to 1638, stating: '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 served as the Holy Ghost hospice to treat the sickly and crippled between its construction around 1300 and 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 has a church-related role again.

One photo on this page kindly contributed by Johnnie Caminante via the 'History Files: Churches of Estonia' Flickr group.



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