Tallinn, Estonia

Toomkirik, Tallinn, Estonia

The Toomkirik, or properly the Cathedral Church of St. Mary the Virgin, is the oldest church in Tallinn and also in mainland Estonia. It is the only building on Toompea Hill which survived a fire in the 17th Century.

There is no clear date for founding of the church, but it was certainly here – probably in wood – when the Danes invaded Tallinn in 1219. In 1229 Dominicans arrived and started to build a stone church to replace the wooden one. But during a conflict in 1233 the monks were all killed and a letter asking for the church to be re-consecrated was sent to Rome that year, which is the first specific reference to the church in surviving literature.

The Dominicans had barely started their church when they were killed and it was not until 1240 that a single-aisled simple church was finished and ready for worship. From that time onwards it served as a Cathedral for the Roman Catholic population of Tallinn.

In the 1330s an enlargement program was begun which would last around 100 years – this enlargement both in length and width was completed in the 1430s to more or less the same size and plan as today’s church, although it did not have a spire then.

In 1561 the Cathedral became Lutheran and it remains the Lutheran Cathedral and Mother Church of Estonia to this day.

In 1684 almost every building on Toompea Hill was consumed in a terrible fire. Only some of the Castle walls and the stone structure of the Toomkirik survived the conflagration. The damage to the interior and roof was terrible and the Cathedral was rebuilt, almost from scratch, using the existing plan.

As Estonia was now Lutheran the interiors of the Cathedral were built with that form of worship in mind and so have a sparser, more subtle feel than the Catholic original would have. The spire was added between 1778 and 1779 and at this point the Toomkirik was essentially the same building you would see today.

The privations of the Soviet period don’t seem to have unduly affected the Toomkirik and today it looks much as it did since the 18th Century.

Photo - Andrew J. Müller

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