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The ruins of Pirita Convent (Pirita klooster)
are located a short way back from the main road through Pirita, along
the coast to the north of Tallinn. The idea of creating a Catholic
convent in Estonia was raised by some merchants around 1400. The
sisters of the Catholic Order of St Bridget, otherwise known as the
Bridgettine Order, arrived in Estonia in 1412. The first convent
of St Bridget was opened in Vadstena in Sweden, in 1384, and the
order quickly spread.
At this time Tallinn (or Reval, as it was known by
its German masters) had started to benefit from its privileged situation as
a Hanseatic port and a key trading crossroads between east and west. During
the medieval building boom in Tallinn, the city's walls were heavily rebuilt
and many new towers were added. In addition to Pirita Convent, several other
outstanding buildings were constructed, including the Town Hall in the Old
This building boom caused a shortage of materials and
organisational skills. Land for the convent was finally secured on the
right bank of the River Pirita, but it took several more years of
difficulties before, in 1417, the first limestone quarry permit was
secured with help from the grandmaster of the Livonian Order and
work on the convent started. The church was consecrated on 15 August
1436 by Bishop Heinrich II of Reval, a date that is still celebrated
Pirita Convent remained in operation for the next 150
years as the largest nunnery in Old Livonia. Its facade
had a monumental triangular gable rising over the portal, reaching to a
height of about thirty-five metres. The convent's floor space totalled
more than 1,360 metres squared. Atypically, the main altar was located in
the east, due to the location of the convent beside the river making it
impractical to place the visitor's entrance there. Instead it was reversed.
According to the rules of St Bridget's convents,
the church had thirteen altars, all named after the apostles, so
that each priest had his own altar and apostle. In addition there were
several other side altars such as the St Bridget altar. Each convent
could not have more than 85 members: sixty sisters and twenty-five brothers.
The nuns and monks were kept separated by the church building itself, and
when inside it during joint masses they were not allowed to see
A small-scale invasion of Russians into Old
Livonia and North Estonia took place in January 1575, during the
Livonian Wars. The Russians reached the outskirts of Tallinn,
destroying Pirita Convent and the nearby village. The local
inhabitants never restored most of the buildings. As late as the
1930s a potato field covered the former nuns quarters and the
potatoes were stored in the former hypocaust of the abbess'
residence. A new nunnery was built next to the old ruins in 2001.
All photos on this page kindly contributed by K Kimmel.