Saint Mary's Cathedral

A brief description.


The first church was made of wood and built there most likely already in 1219 when the Danes invaded Tallinn. In 1229, the Dominican fathers arrived, and built a stone church, replacing the old wooden one. In 1233, the fathers were killed in a conflict between the Knights of the Sword and Vassals supporting the Pope’s legate,  and the church was contaminated. A letter asking permission to consecrate it anew was sent to Rome in 1233 and this is the first reco
rd of the church’s existence.

The Dominicans could not finish the building. Actually, they built only the base walls. The building completed in 1240, was a one-aisled building with a rectangular chancel. In 1240, it was also named cathedral and consecrated in honour of Virgin Mary.


In the beginning of 14th century, reconstructions of the church began. The church was made bigger. The reconstructions began with building a new chancel. About the same time the new vestry was built.

The enlargement of the one-aisled building to a three-aisled building began in the 1330s. The construction work however lasted almost 100 years. The new, longitudinal part of the church, 29 meters long, built by following the principles of basilica, was completed in the 1430s. The nave’s rectangular pillars had been completed in the second half of the 14th century, though.


The ccathedrall became Lutheran in 1561 and now belongs to the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church.


The great fire of 1684 damaged the church, and the entire wooden furnishing . Some vaults collapsed and many stone-carved details were greatly damaged, especially in the chancel. In 1686, after the fire, the church was practically restored to what it had been before.


The Dome Church’s exterior dates from the 15th century, the spire dates from the 18th century. Most of the church’s furnishings go back to the 17th and 18th centuries. From 1778 to 1779, a new baroque spire was built in the western part of the nave.

One should also mention a numerous sum of different kinds of tombstones from 13th –18th century, the stone-carved sarcophagi from the 17th century, also the altar and chancel, chandeliers, numerous coats-of arms from the 17th – 20th centuries. Two of the church’s four bells date back to 17th century, two dates to the 18th century. The organ was made in 1914.

Among the people buried in the cathedral are the Swedish Commander-in Chief Pontus De la Gardie and his wife Sophia Gyllenhelm, daughter of Swedish King Johann III. Their tomb is designed by stonemason and architect of  the Netherlands origin - Arent Passer. He was born in Den Haag (‘s-Gravenhage), worked in Tallinn from the beginning of 1589 till his death in 1637. He was a Guild master of stonemasons' craft guild, further on a Guild master of  St. Olaus’ Guild. This tomb is his  greatest masterpiece made in 1595.

Famous is also the tomb of the Russian navigators Admiral Samuel Greig, Catherine the Great’s lover, and Admiral Adam Johann von Krusenstern (19.11.1770-24.8.1846), who led the expedition around the world.

The former Dominican priory (1229) houses now a museum.

Source: wikipedia




Eesti  1993, Mi 217, Sc 262.





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