Tallinn's Historical Churches (Self Guided), Tallinn

Tallinn is home to various Medieval-style religious buildings and places of worship. These buildings have played an important role in the city's religious life and present Tallinn's greatest artistic talent. Tallinn’s churches are historic landmarks and true architectural treasures, so make sure you do not miss out on a chance of a lifetime.
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Tallinn's Historical Churches Map

Guide Name: Tallinn's Historical Churches
Guide Location: Estonia » Tallinn (See other walking tours in Tallinn)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 9
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.7 Km or 1.7 Miles
Author: leticia
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church
  • St. Olav's Church (Oleviste Kirik)
  • St. Nicholas' Orthodox Church
  • Holy Spirit Church (Puhavaimu Kirik)
  • The Saint Mary Cathedral
  • St. Nicholas Church (Niguliste kirik)
  • Swedish St. Michael's Church
  • St. John’s Church
  • Charles XI’s Church (Kaarli Church)
Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church

1) Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church

The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is part of the so-called Eastern Rite Catholic Church Union. It also happens to be the largest such institution still affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church. It is a very old worshipping community, dating all the way back to 988, when it was one of the successor churches during the time of Grand Prince Vladimir the Great.

This local group is housed in an old medieval house that dates back to the 1300s. The local church has been an active part of Tallinn since the 17th Century. The iconic art of the walls of the sanctuary are the real draw here though. They are some of the finest examples of such art to be found anywhere. The MaDonna and child are quite striking indeed, as well as the figures of Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The iconostasis is the handy work of the famous artist Pyotr Gumenyuk.

Besides being a church, the building also acts as a cultural gathering place for the Ukrainian community of the area. Periodically, there are celebrations held here that the local public can visit. The congregation worships on Sundays at 10:00 a.m. Otherwise, you must call ahead to be able to visit the inside of the church, but it is worth the call.
St. Olav's Church (Oleviste Kirik)

2) St. Olav's Church (Oleviste Kirik) (must see)

St. Olav’s Church is one of the oldest churches in the city of Tallinn, Estonia. It was built sometime during the 1100s, and has been the center for religious life for the Scandinavian community of the city since. Many of the people that attend here can trace their heritage back to when Denmark conquered Tallinn in 1219. The church is dedicated to King Olaf II of Norway though. The oldest surviving records that refer to the church are from 1267.

On a different note, there is also an old legend that the builder of the church, who was also named Olaf, fell to his death from the towers of the church, so that adds some mystery to this place. There is a painting depicting the event in the Chapel.

Sadly, the building was damaged during the 1300s, and had to be heavily rebuilt. In the 1500s, the tower of the chapel was raised to 159 meters in the air. It has been struck by lightning many times, but really has a utilitarian function: it is a seaside landmark for naval vessels. From 1549 until 1625, when the tower was burned from a lightning strike, it was the tallest structure in the known world.

During the Soviet era, and until 1991, the KGB used the church’s spire as a radio tower and surveillance point. Since that time, the building now houses a Baptist church.

The tower's viewing platform offers tourists one of the best views of Tallinn, and is open to the public from April through November of each year. It is closed during the winter months due to weather.
St. Nicholas' Orthodox Church

3) St. Nicholas' Orthodox Church

St. Nicholas' Orthodox Church is a gorgeous, neoclassical church located on Vene street. Built in the middle of 19th century, the building hosts the much treasured iconostasis, 16th-century icons, and many other objects of artistic value. Inside the Church there are brochures, postcards, souvenirs, and religious books available for sale.
Holy Spirit Church (Puhavaimu Kirik)

4) Holy Spirit Church (Puhavaimu Kirik) (must see)

There is a lot of historicity associated with the Holy Spirit Church of Tallinn. In 1531, they became the very first church to hold regular worship services in Estonian. The pastor at the time was Johann Koell, who also happens to be the person who authored the oldest surviving book known that was written in Estonian. With the assistance of Pastor Simon Wanradt from the St. Nicholas Church, they compiled a short catechism for the people in German and Estonian. It was published circa 1535.

Pastor Balthasar Russow of the Holy Spirit Church is another famous author/clergyperson from the organization. He wrote a history book on the countries of Estonia and Livonia, as well as the war that happened between both countries in the 16th Century.

The building dates back to the 1200s, which also served as an almshouse church and chapel for the magistrate of Tallinn. From an architectural perspective, the locals call the church the museum of styles, because the sanctuary and altar have artifacts from the medieval, Baroque, and Renaissance periods. You will also want to see the woodcarvings on the balcony that were done by Elert Thiele, as well as the arch and pews. The work is exquisite. The church bell here is also the oldest surviving in the country, dating back to 1433.

The church holds services in English, every Sunday at 3.00 p.m.
The Saint Mary Cathedral

5) The Saint Mary Cathedral (must see)

St. Mary’s Cathedral is a very old and very famous church in Tallinn. In fact, it is the oldest church in town, to the extent that that fact can be proven. It dates all the way back to 1219, and was built during the time that the Danes conquered Tallinn. The original was built completely of wood, but was damaged later in history. A group of Dominican Monks came in 1229 and started construction of a stone church to replace the old one. A letter sent to Rome in 1233 is actually the oldest documented note about the church. In 1240, the building was completed. At the same time, it was made into a cathedral and dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The size of the church was expanded in the 14th Century.

The grand old structure was badly damaged in the great fire of 1684. Most of the remaining wooden structure was lost, as well as some of the beautiful woodwork in the chancel. The church was restored in just two years, but that is why you will see a Baroque style pulpit in the building. It, and the altarpiece, was done by the famous Estonian sculptor Christian Ackermann.

The exterior of the church dates from the 15th Century, and the large spire dates from the 1700s. Most of the current furnishings also go back to the 17th Century, and are Baroque in style.

There are many famous people buried here in the cemetery. Among them are Jindrich Matyas Thurn, Samuel Greig and Adam Johann von Krusenstern.
St. Nicholas Church (Niguliste kirik)

6) St. Nicholas Church (Niguliste kirik) (must see)

St. Nicholas Church is a basilica style church located in the Old Town part of Tallinn, Estonia. It is fairly large in size, having three full aisles down the sanctuary. It is an Orthodox community of faith, which was started by merchants from Westphalia during the 13th Century, though a good deal of the structure is a couple of hundred years younger, as improvements were made during the years.

A fair bit of damage was done to the building by Soviet bombing during the Second World War, and that is partly why the local community turned it into a museum. It houses much of the surviving sacred artwork of Tallinn that survived the Protestant riots there in 1524.

Among the things to see are pieces like the Gothic altarpiece done by Herman rode of Lubeck. They feature events in the life of St. Nicholas and St. George. The Crucifixion scene that is located to the left of the altar is also quite stunning, though the artist is unknown. The Altar of the Blackheads is also very beautiful.

A side chapel holds the remains of Duke Charles-Eugene de Croy. It used to be a local attraction, primarily because the structure had preserved the body so well. Authorities finally buried the body in 1897 to put an end to the almost freakish attraction people had to the corpse.

There is also a beautiful old organ here that gets played about every Saturday and Sunday evening. You can visit the church from Wednesday through Sunday from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. The cost is 35 EEK.
Swedish St. Michael's Church

7) Swedish St. Michael's Church

St. Michael Swedish Church is located in the Old Town section of Tallinn, and has been a spiritual and cultural center for the Swedes for centuries. Many Nordic people call the building a church home now though.

The building did not start out that way though. It was originally constructed to be an almshouse for the poor of Tallinn. For a period in the history of the church, it also housed a spinning factory for fallen women in the community. During the Soviet era, the church was used as a weightlifting room by the Russian Army. After 1933, though, the church was given back to the local Swedish community that worships there now.

Today, the congregation has over 300 members. Worship is held here each Sunday at noon. Masses are also held on Wednesday evenings from St. Michael’s Day to Easter. The location is also used by some small German and Finnish parishes. The church is also well known for the famous acoustics of the building. Hence, many concerts are given here.

The building is also the home of Ruutli Folk High School, as well as a museum for the Estonian Swedes of Tallinn.
St. John’s Church

8) St. John’s Church

St. John’s Church is located in Freedom Square in downtown Tallinn, Estonia. It is also one of the most visual of all churches in town, having been built of brightly colored yellow brick in a neo-Gothic style. It is also a bit of a lucky building, as it has survived two attempts so far to tear it down.

The need for the new church began in the mid 1800s, when it became clear that the Holy Spirit Church was becoming too small to house the growing ethnic worshipping population of Estonia. So at the advice of the Pastor of the Holy Spirit Church, the new congregation and building was named after St. John the Evangelist. It seemed quite appropriate for a growing church.

The construction of the new church was completed in 1867, and was supervised by the famous Estonian architect Christoph August Gabler. The construction of the new church was tricky to say the least, as the grounds for the church used to be the old moat for the town. So, very large, thick Oak Trees were buried in the ground here to help shore up the earth.

During the 1930s, many newer art deco style buildings were erected around Freedom Square, leaving the old church looking a bit out of place. So far though, no one has been able to get that task done. The church is open to the public Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 10:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. It is open Wednesday from 10:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. Worship services are held on Wednesday at 1:30 p.m., Thursday at noon, and Sunday at 10:00 a.m.
Charles XI’s Church (Kaarli Church)

9) Charles XI’s Church (Kaarli Church)

The Charles XI’s Church is one of the grand things to see in downtown Tallinn, Estonia. It is an immense building, sporting twin steeples and a neo-Roman style of architecture. You can see the building from all over town.

It was built over a twenty year period that ended in 1882. The location was a replacement church for the original Kaarli Church of 1670. The original was a wooden church which burned during the Great Northern War in the early 1700s.

The architect for the project was the famous Otto Pius Hippius, who was from St. Petersburg. He designed the present limestone rock church using a special arch technique that gave it have a vast, open interior.

Because of the soft nature of limestone used in construction, as well as the vast open space of the sanctuary, there are wonderful acoustics in this old church. Add a seating capacity of 1,500, and you have the making of a venue for choral concerts, and that in fact is the case here.

The Kaarli Church is home to the first Estonian fresco ever painted. It is called, “Come to Me,” and was done in 1879 by the famous Estonian artist Johann Köler. It also boasts the country's largest church organ, installed in 1924. It is open to the public for visitation Monday- Wednesday, Friday on 10a.m-15 p.m, Tuesday 1 p.m-6.30 p.m ;Sunday 9am -12 p.m

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