Historical Churches and Cathedrals, Riga

Historical Churches and Cathedrals (Self Guided), Riga

One great thing about Riga is that the majority of its religious sites are concentrated in the historic center. A variety of faiths found in the Latvian capital is fairly broad for such a small country and includes Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Lutheran, to mention but a few.

The 13th-century Riga Cathedral is perhaps the most significant house of prayer in the city. The imposing mix of Gothic, Romanesque, Baroque, and Art Nouveau architecture makes it hard to pass by without notice.

Saint James's Cathedral, in turn, is another noteworthy temple. This Lutheran cathedral showcases a blend of Gothic and Romanesque styles and has played a pivotal role in Riga's ecclesiastical history.

Saint Peter's Church, with its distinctive red-brick facade and towering spire, offers panoramic city views from its observation platform. This landmark serves as a reminder of Riga's medieval past and is a must-visit for history enthusiasts.

Saint John's Church, reportedly built by the Dominicans, stands as a symbol of religious devotion and architectural splendor and is an integral part of Riga's Old Town area.

The Cathedral of the Nativity of Christ, an Orthodox cathedral dating back to the 19th century, showcases stunning Russian Revival architecture. Its colorful domes and intricate iconography make it a captivating sight for visitors exploring Riga's religious heritage.

Finally, the Old Saint Gertrude Church, known for its distinctive Neo-Gothic elements, offers a unique glimpse into Riga's architectural diversity. Its graceful curves and intricate details make it a standout attraction in the city.

The eventful history of Riga is reflected in the impressive array of its iconic churches and cathedrals. So, whether you're a history buff, an architecture enthusiast, or simply seeking spiritual enlightenment, this self-guided tour may interest you all the same as an opportunity to acquaint yourself more closely with the city's religious scene.
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Historical Churches and Cathedrals Map

Guide Name: Historical Churches and Cathedrals
Guide Location: Latvia » Riga (See other walking tours in Riga)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 6
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.5 Km or 1.6 Miles
Author: helenp
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Riga Cathedral
  • Saint James Cathedral
  • Saint Peter's Church
  • Saint John's Church
  • Cathedral of the Nativity of Christ
  • Old St. Gertrude Church
Riga Cathedral

1) Riga Cathedral (must see)

Riga Cathedral is the oldest religious site in the city and one of the oldest in Latvia. Its foundation stone was laid on July 25th, 1211 by Bishop Albert of Riga. Originally, the church was built in a geometric, Romanesque style and was meant to become a centre of Christianity in the Baltic region. In the 14th-15th centuries it had side chapels and a western cross-nave added, along with the tower walls elevated and an octagonal spire built in. In the following centuries, the cathedral endured many reconstructions. The most drastic ones took place between 1881 and 1914, when part of the building was completely remodelled. Another reconstruction was undertaken in the 20th century. During the Soviet period, the cathedral was used as a concert hall.

Presently, the Riga Cathedral features a combination of Gothic, Romanesque, Baroque and Art Nouveau styles. Its key feature is the 6718 pipe organ, built by E.F. Walcker & Co in 1883-1884, which is considered to be one of the most precious organs in the world.

Today, the cathedral serves as the country's main Lutheran temple and is the seat of the Archbishop of Latvia Evangelical Lutheran Church.
Saint James Cathedral

2) Saint James Cathedral

Located in the old part of Riga, on Klostera Street, Saint James' Cathedral (or St. Jacob's Cathedral) is one of the oldest catholic temples in Latvia. The first mention of the church dates back to 1225, although the building itself is believed to have been in place since 1210, when Bishop Albert requested three churches to be built to serve rural parishes. In 1522, it became a Lutheran church, the first one to hold a Lutheran sermon in Latvian, although in 1584 it was given back to the Jesuits.

In the following centuries the church had changed hands several times, serving consecutively the Swedish, Russian and even Estonian Lutheran communities. In 1812, it was even used as a storage depot by the French troops. In 1901, Saint James' altar (oldest in Riga), built in 1680, was replaced with a new one. Since 1923, the cathedral has been in Catholic possession.

The church represents a mixture of Gothic and Romanesque architectural styles and is made of red brick and limestone. Art Nouveau motifs are also present in the decoration. The three floor Gothic tower is the only church tower left in Riga that has a spire. The cathedral forms part of the old Riga UNESCO world heritage site.
Saint Peter's Church

3) Saint Peter's Church (must see)

You can trace the history of this beautiful church back to 1209. Having such a long story to tell, it's not surprising that the tales are traced to the building styles of various periods. The church has Gothic, Romanesque, and Baroque elements.

Little remains of the original Gothic construction. Only the central section of the church, including the outer nave walls and a few pillars, remain from those early years.

The second construction period was overseen by master builder Johannes Rumeschottel from Germany. This was in 1409, but work was interrupted by wars and the plague. Nevertheless, by the late 15th century, the church had a mighty basilica with three aisles and vaulted ceilings. It also sported a new bell tower, 136 meters (446 feet) tall, with a steeple.

The final construction period occurred in the late 1600s when the western facade and new bell tower were built after a devastating fire in the city. Many of the furnishings and the vaulted ceiling were refurbished as well. When finished, the new tower and steeple was the tallest wooden structure in Europe.

The church was reconstructed after artillery fire destroyed it during World War II. The bronze candelabrum--a standing lantern--was taken from the church to Wloclawek, Poland. It was displayed there until 2012 when it was returned to Riga.

The steeple was completed in 1970, and the clock tower in the early 1970s. The rooster atop the steeple weighs 158 kilograms and includes 140 grams of gold plating. The bell plays the Latvian folk melody "Riga Resounds" five times a day, and the bell chimes hourly. There is an elevator that takes guests up the tower, where you can take in the view of Riga from a height of 72 meters (236 feet).

Today, the church is owned by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia. Services resumed here in 1991. In addition to the view from the tower's top, strolling through the art collection and seeing the beautiful nave are must-dos in Riga.
Saint John's Church

4) Saint John's Church

Saint John’s Church is a 13th century temple presumably built by the Dominicans. Its original shape and location are unknown and may only be assumed. Legend has it that two monks were immured in the church's southern wall when it was built and were fed through a hole, which in the Middle Ages was considered a supreme form of asceticism.

After the Dominicans had been expelled from Latvia, the building was passed into private hands and turned into a stable; later on it was even used as a weapon workshop. In 1582, the church was sanctified again and returned to the Latvian parish. Five years later, it underwent major reconstruction and an altar was added.

Today, Saint John’s serves the local Lutheran community and forms part of Riga's Old Town area, remaining one of the top tourist sights in the city. Its Gothic interior, ascetic medieval outside appearance and rich history are equally appreciated by tourists and locals.
Cathedral of the Nativity of Christ

5) Cathedral of the Nativity of Christ

The Cathedral of the Nativity of Christ, also known as simply the Russian Orthodox Cathedral, is a Neo-Byzantine church designed by architect R.Phlug. The cathedral is considered to be the largest orthodox temple in the Baltic region and was erected with the blessing of Alexander II, the Tsar of Russia, between 1876 and 1883. The church features five domes with florid decorations on the exterior, while its interior is embellished with traditional icons, painted by Vasily Vereshchagin, and numerous gold plated items.

Two world wars had their toll on the building. During WWI, when Latvia was under the German occupation, the cathedral was converted into a Lutheran church. In 1918, it was given back to the Russians and, even though the local government wanted to impose Latvian as the main language for religious rituals, the cathedral’s masses were still held in Russian. During World War II, the cathedral was damaged both on the outside and inside, and in the 1960s it was closed down completely, transformed into a planetarium, with its interior refurbished and split into two levels. The upper floor held a scale model of the universe, while the lower was taken up by a conference hall and café.

In 1991, the cathedral was returned to its rightful owners, the Orthodox Russian Church. Since then there has been a profound restoration performed. Today, the building fully resembles the original 1883 look and is used for religious services again.
Old St. Gertrude Church

6) Old St. Gertrude Church

Located at 6 Ģertrūdes Street, Old St. Gertrude is one of the oldest churches in Riga. It is named after Saint Gertrude of Nivelles who lived between 626 and 659. Before the current, red brick building was constructed, the site was occupied consecutively by seven wooden churches, each named St. Gertrude and burnt down by invading barbarians.

The present, Neo-Gothic style edifice was designed by J.D. Felsko, a prolific local architect. Works on the temple started in 1864 and continued until 1869. The brick walls were left uncovered on purpose, whereas the façade and the spire got embellished with concrete decorations.

The building has the shape of a cross, featuring a nave, incorporating three segments, and a shorter cruciform nave. The church organ was custom bought in 1906 at a cost of 8,000 roubles. The instrument is still functional and is a great pleasure to the ears of multiple worshippers and tourists who come to the church every day.

Old St. Gertrude Church is surrounded by a number of Art Nouveau buildings which are also well worth seeing.

Walking Tours in Riga, Latvia

Create Your Own Walk in Riga

Create Your Own Walk in Riga

Creating your own self-guided walk in Riga is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
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Art Nouveau Architecture Walk

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Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.3 Km or 0.8 Miles
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Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.4 Km or 1.5 Miles

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