priory and church of Saint John the Baptist
A brief description.
The Dominicans in Riga.
Bishop Nikolai, perhaps a Dominican, handed over, at the instance of the Papal Legate William of Modena, the bishop's castle and several plots in the oldest part of Riga to the Dominicans on 8 September 1234.
Here they established a priory and a chapel, replaced by a church, named after Saint John the Baptist (Janis Kirik) in 1284. This building was in the southern part of the priory courtyard, surrounded by an arch gallery. Only two parts of vaulting between buttresses have survived until today from that building. The first documentary evidence about a church in this place dates back to 1297.
The church was enlarged from the entrance side in 1330. The wonderful pointed portal cut in white stone dates from this time.
During the reconstruction of the church in the 15th century or early 16th century, the interior was rich in selected airy vaulting, but outside one notices a stepped pediment, which arises in opposition to the stable building.
The church of Saint John is the last existing example where the influence of the late Gothic principles can be traced. For instance, the gate of the priory. The church has a tower of 73 m (1853).
After expulsion of the Dominicans in the period of the Reformation the building was privately owned - it was used as a stable and later as a weapon workshop. In 1582 it became a part of a Latvian parish.
Between 1587 and 1589 the church was redesigned according to the Lutheran style, with an altar (choir) annex built in the forms of Mannerism. This annex remains one of the relative
rare examples of this style of construction in Latvia.
Today the church boasts a Baroque altar produced by master craftsmen in Riga in the 1760s. The organ loft is decorated with 18th- century paintings.
There are two statues situated in the semi-rounded niches of the eastern pediment of the facade these are the figures of John the Baptist and Salome. They date back to the late-sixteenth or early-seventeenth century and it is believed that the authors are local sculptors.
In the southern wall of the church there is a cross-shaped hole, covered by the stone grid, with which a legend is associated. It is said that when the building was used by a priory, two Dominicans decided that they wanted to become saints.
They ordered themselves to be enclosed in the wall of the church, with just a small window through which they could receive sustenance from the city`s residents. After they died, however, the Pope in Rome declared that the brothers were seeking benefits for themselves, so they could not be sainted.
In 1884 the mortal remains untouched were found in a niche in the wall. It was bricked up again, but in memory of these Dominicans the cross-shaped hole was left on the wall.
There are two heads with open mouths on the outer wall of the Church towards Skarnu Street. It is believed that this can be found in any Dominican church; this was the way to announce to the people standing outside that the service was to begin.
The other stories tell us these heads with the open mouths were used for preachers training.
Cultural Heritage of Riga.
: Riga This Week. Autumn 1994, nr. 11.
Churches of Riga.
The church with the highest, small tower (73 m) is the church of
Saint John the Baptist, former the church of the Dominican priory.
Latvia 1928, Mi 136, Sc 162.>>>
The highest, small tower is of the church of Saint
John the Baptist, former the church of the Dominican priory.
Russia 1958, Mi 2153, Sc 2126.
Others: Latvia 1933, Mi 230,Sc CB23
Latvia 1999, Mi 513
Latvia 2001, Mi 545-548; Sc
Latvia 2007, Mi 686, Sc
Return to REGISTER B Return to HOMEPAGE