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.
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 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.
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 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
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'