Wednesday, August 3, 2011

St. Mary's Cathedral - Tallinn, Estonia

St. Mary’s Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of St. Mary the Virgin, or the Dome Church, is the oldest church in mainland Estonia. 
The original church, built of wood, was there in 1219 when the Danes invaded Tallinn. Dominican monks from the Danish monastery of Ribe arrived in 1229 and started to replace the wood church with one made of stone, at the same time as they started a new monastery. The monks completed the base walls by 1233 but were killed by the Livonian Brothers of the Sword, a military order of German warrior monks, used by the King of Denmark to help conquer northern Estonia. The one-aisled stone building was completed in 1240 and it was named a cathedral and consecrated in honor of the Virgin Mary. Expansion began in the 1330s to enlarge it to a three aisled building, taking about 100 years. The reformation arrived in Estonia in 1524. However, the Cathedral remained Catholic until 1561 when it was reformed and became the main church of the Lutheran diocese. In 1684 the wooden furnishings were burned by a great fire which destroyed every other building in the Toompea area of Tallinn. St. Mary’s was the only building that survived. 
Afterward, the church was restored to what it had been before. The exterior of the church dates to the 1400s, the furnishings to the 1600s and 1700s and the tower was built in 1778 to 1779.
During the Great Northern War, Estonia was taken by Russia from the Swedish Empire. It remained under Russian control until 1918 when it declared independence. It remained independent for 22 years until the Soviet Union invaded Estonia in 1940. The Soviet Union dissolved  Christian organizations,  church properties were confiscated and theologians were exiled to Siberia. The Lutheran church hierarchy escaped to Sweden in 1944. In a way that I have not been able to figure out, the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church was established in 1949, perhaps surreptitiously. In 1988, just three years before the fall of the Soviet Union, church activities were renewed as religious tolerance started to thrive. Unlike Finland, Denmark and Norway, the Estonian constitution guarantees separation of church and state. A 2005 poll found that Estonia is the least religious country in the European Union, and perhaps the world. Only 16% of Estonians believe in God. In February 2009, the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church had 160,000 baptized members, about 14.8% of the population of Estonia, and about 8,000 baptized members outside of the country. It is a member of the Porvoo Communion. The Eastern Orthodox Church, primarily practiced by a Russian minority, has about 143,000 members.

We were not allowed to take pictures inside the cathedral, so I have some from the internet. 
The inside is more fancy and ornate than many other Lutheran churches we visited in Scandinavia, including coats of arms, 
but still very simple compared to Eastern Orthodox Churches. 
Toward the back of the church 
we found a circular stairway 
that led up into the tower. 
From the tower we got a wonderful view of old town Tallinn. Below is St. Olaf’s church, the tallest building in the world between 1549 and 1625. 
Behind it in the distance is our ship, the Emerald Princess. Below is Toompea Castle, very close to St. Mary’s, which is the seat of the Parliament of the Republic of Estonia. 
Next is Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, part of the Estonian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate. 
One of the bells in the tower, 
and a smaller dome on the other end of the roof.

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