The city of Tallinn is the capital of Estonia, a small nation in northeastern Europe bordered by Russia and the Gulf of Finland. The country has had a long history of being controlled by other states, including Sweden and the Soviet Union, but as of August 1991, Estonia was re-established as an independent country with Tallinn as its capital. Tallinn is a small but modern city, retaining all the charm of a small and friendly town while continuing to grow as a regional center for technology, art, and business. Tallinn is home to a number of medieval and modern churches, known in Estonian as “kirik.” While in Tallinn, make sure to honor the city’s history by visiting these excellently-preserved and beautiful churches.
Oleviste Kirik (St. Olaf’s Church)
Oleviste kirik, also known as St. Olaf’s church in English, was originally built in the 13th century and is still used today by Baptist and Methodist congregations. If you’re expecting the ornate, gold-everything style of church, you may be disappointed by the relatively plain and modern decoration. The church’s high ceilings and long pillars make for a nice visit, but the real highlight of Oleviste is the tower, which is the highest point in all of Tallinn. If you’re in good enough shape, pay a few euros and make the steep climb to the top of the tower for incredible panoramic views of the nation’s capital city.
Pirita Klooster (Pirita Convent)
Pirita Klooster, also known as Pirita Convent or the Convent of St. Bridget, was a monastery built in the 15th century. It was dedicated to St. Brigitta, a celebrated saint from Sweden, and was used by both monks and nuns. Today little more than ruins are left, although the convent is still used in the summer for concerts and theater pieces. It’s a lovely place to walk around and imagine what life was like hundreds of years ago. Near the ruins you’ll find the new Convent of Pirita, opened in 2001 by the very same order of nuns that once occupied the original convent.
Niguliste Kirik (St. Nicholas’ Church)
Niguliste kirik, or St. Nicholas’ Church in English, was built in the 13th century and dedicated to Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors and fishermen. The church was renovated in the 1800’s but was mostly destroyed in a Soviet air raid in 1944. The church has been rebuilt, but no longer serves as a church. Instead, it has become a branch of the Art Museum of Estonia, hosting mostly medieval and religious art. The Danse Macabre (“Dance with Death”), a painting by famous German artist Bernt Notke, is located in this very museum, along with several other notable works from the late Gothic and early Northern Renaissance periods.
Püha Vaimu Kirik (Church of the Holy Ghost)
Püha Vaimu kirik, known as the Church of the Holy Ghost in English, is a medieval Lutheran church built in the early 13th century, making it the city’s oldest church. The church is rather small and from the outside looks like nothing more than a plain white building with a tower. On the inside, however, you’ll find an unusual asymmetrical layout and several well-preserved examples of past architectural periods. The church is sometimes referred to as a “museum of styles,” and features 17th century wood carvings on the balcony, 16th century chandeliers, and a memorable three-piece alter created by Bernt Notke dating back to 1483. The church holds an English-language service every Sunday at 3pm.
St. Aleksander Nevsky
St. Aleksander Nevsky’s Cathedral is another charming church in Tallinn. Unlike the other churches on this list, this cathedral is relatively new. It was built in the early 1900’s in the typical Russian Revival style, complete with five onion domes on top. This Russian-style church was controversial in the early twentieth century, when Estonians were fearful and angry about the “Russification” of their country, and the cathedral was even slated for destruction at one point. It fell into disuse and disrepair during the Soviet rule, but since Estonia gained independence the church has been carefully restored. The cathedral is richly decorated and beautifully detailed. You’ll find eleven bells in this church, the largest weighing in at nearly 16 tons, as well as beautiful stained glass windows and wood carvings.