Content of the page

History of cathedral
   The plan of cathedral
   History of congregation
   The organ

The History of Cathedral

The Cathedral of Sant Mary the Virgin ( known in everyday usage as Dome Church ) was established so long ago that the earliest history of ancient building can be reconstructed on suppositions only. Obviously it was soon after the Danish invasion in June 1219 that the first wooden predecessor of the present church was built. Ten years later, in 1229, a group of Dominican monks from Danish monastery of Ribe arrived in these parts. Their aim was to found a new monastery on Toompea, north of the fortress. They also commenced the building of a new stone church to replace the existing wooden one. The new monastery that had only begun to take shape perished in a violent conflict between the Danish vassals and the monks of the Order of the Knights of Sword in 1233. Simultaneously the existing church was denominated cathedral and dedicated to St. Mary the Virgin.

The first stone church was obviously a rather modest rectangular unvaulted building of the  size of the present chancel. Its east wall was straight and the north wall had a vestry attached to it. Poor as the diocese of Tallinn was, the cathedral remained as modest as that till the end of the 13th century. But, the reconstruction undertaken then was a really far-reaching one and it was still in full swing in 1319. What was built then was a wide and relatively short three- aisled main body to which the former church was linked as chancel. The two were connected with a wide triumphal arch. In order to adjust the former small church to its new function, its straight eastern wall was replaced by a polygonal apse and both the apse and the chancel were covered with high domical vault. The corbels and all the other carved parts of the chancel were decorated with naturalistic vegetal motifs of which we can nowadays see but firecrumbled remains. A winding staircase was built into the thick western wall of the nave. It took a small chapel in the same wall and a loft facing the interior of the church above it.  The latter is now closed with the organ. The same staircase led to the one-time exterior oriel-type pulpit. The main body was roofed over but obviously not vaulted. The whole process of building seems to have been somewhat irregular due to economic difficulties on that time. With certain reservation the vaulting of the main body can be dated to the end of  the 14th century when simpler geometrical decor elements began to supersede the naturalistic vegetal motifs that had prevailed in the architecture of Tallinn until then. The new style has left a deep imprint on the carved parts of the cathedral's vaulting. Work on the main body and the chapels surrounding it went on in the 15th century. To this period belong the office room and the chapels on the south side, St. George's Chapel on the north side and no longer existing chapel at the northeastern corner of the main rectangle. The monumental edifice still remained without a high western tower to typical of Tallinn's parochial churches. Instead, a small tower was built in the corner of the chancel and the south aisle. The lower part of it has survived.

The beginning of the 16th century ushered in a period of great changes in church life. The conversion of the lower town churches took place in 1524. The first wave of Reformation left the cathedral untouched and the Catholic bishop retained his superior position until 1561. Then the cathedral was reformed  as well and changed into the main church of  the Lutheran diocese. In connection with the Reformation, certain changes took place also in building traditions. The chapel that had primarily been a room of worship now began to be used as burial place. In the 16th and 17th centuries one such burial chapel was built to the east of the main porch and another against the west wall of vestry. On the first floor above the porch a room was built for the cathedral's library. It has retained its initial function till the present day. In the course of time the congregation members donated to the church a whole collection of works of art and valuable fittings. All that was destroyed in the tragic fire that broke out on June 6, 1684. The whole town of Toompea, including the cathedral, burnt down.

The reconstruction of the old cathedral was begun at once after fire. The fittings were ordered from the workshop of the noted woodcarver C. Ackermann. It was the end of the 17th century that the reconstruction was fully completed. The initial plan to combine the reconstruction work with the erection of the still missing west tower had to be abandoned because of the Great Northern War that broke out in 1700. It was only in 1778-79 that the tower was finally built. At the same time the interior of the church was redecorated. The pulpit was moved to the northern jamb of the triumphal arch, the present organ loft was built and the pews were regrouped.

The interior of the Gothic building firmly belongs to Baroque. As pure specimens of the style we could name the high altar (C. Ackermann, 1696), the pulpit (C. Ackermann, 1686), the better part of the armorial epitaphs (the richest epitaph collection in Estonia), the organ loft and part of the pews. The period of Classicism has bequeathed the outstanding tomb monument to S. Greigh and the obelisk to commemorate F. von Tiesenhausen. The characteristic grandeur of Historicism is represented by the the organ prospect (1878) and the tomb monument to A. von Krusenstern. Some Gothic tomb plates and the artistically high-level Renaissance tomb chest of  P. de la Gardie have survived from the period before the great fire. The interior is complemented by old battle banners and Baroque chandeliers.

The old cathedral has an outstanding and venerable part to fulfill in Lutheran church life today. All the religious leaders and priests are consecrated and ordained here. 


I Choir
II  Body
III Vestry
IV Chapel of the Freiherr von Güldenbandt
V St. Georges chapel
VI The Fersen's sepulchral chapel
VII Entrance Hall
VII Chancery of congregation room
IX Southwest chapel

1. Nicolaes Millich  Epitaph of Johan Hastfer  1676
2. Box of the Mannteuffels  1750s
3. Box of Patkuls  2nd quarter of the 18th century
4. Hermann Berents and Hinrik Martens  Golgotha gruop on the transverse
beam of the triumphal arch 
5. Arent Passer  Grave slab of Otto von Uexküll  17th century
6. Arent Passer  Perts of Carl Horn's sacrophagus  1601
7. Arent Passer  Grave monument of Pontus De la Gardie  1589-95
8. Christian Ackermann  Reredos  1694-96
Eduard von Gebhardt  Altarpiece "Christ crucified"  1866
9. Hans von Aken  Epitaph of Olaf Ryning  1594
10. Arent Passer  Grave monument of Casper von Tiesenhausen  1599
11. Grave monument of Ferdinand von Tiesenhausen  1806
12. Christian Ackermann  Pulpit  1686
Johann Valentin Rabe  Tester  1720
13. Johan Gustav Stockenberg  Grave monument of Fabian von Fersen              Last decades of the 17th century
14. Johan Gustav Stockenberg  Grave monument of Otto Reinhold von Taube     Last decades of the 17th century
15. Giacomo Quarenghi  Grave monument of Samuel Greigh  1788
16. Johann Gottfried Exner  Grave monument of Adam Johann von Krusenstern   1848
17. Grave slab of the Toompea butchers' guild  1760
18. Grave slab of the Toompea shoemaker's guild  1760

The History of Congregation

The history of the Dome congregation dates back to the time of the foundation of the church. From the 13th century to the year 1710 was the Dome the bishop's church (episcope). Here the Reformation took place in 1565, some decades later than in the Lower-Tallinn. There was no bishop in Estonia from 1710 to 1832 and his duties were carried out by the supreme priest of the church. From 1832 to 1917 the supreme priest was the super-intendent of Estonia, both a Russian official and the Lutheran leader of Estonia. The Estonian congregation left the church in the 19th century after the foundation of the Kaarli (Carl's) congregation.

The Dome Church as the supreme church of Estonia has been inflicted by rational Lutheranism, although it was strongly affected by German pietism in the 18th century.

The bishopric institution was restituted in Estonia in 1919, when Jakob Kukk was elected to be the first bishop of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church. In 1923 the Dome Church was proclaimed bishopric and the bishop could now hold the messes, no matter that the German congregation was the holder of the church. March the 27th in 1927, when bishop made the German congregation to leave the church, is the bitrthdate of the Estonian congregation.

The Organ

The Tallinn Dome Church organ, that was built in 1878 by an organ builder of Weissenfeld Friedrich Landegast , rebuilt in 1913/14 by a famous German organ–building enterprise Orgelwerkstatt Wilhelm Sauer and renovated by Christian Scheffler (Frankfurt/Oder), has an outstanding position in world organ-history. The organ is a marvelous mixture of both Classicism and late Romanticism.

During the intensive renovation in 1998´s seven months the complete cleaning and restoration of the pipes, the creation of the missing registers and pipes, the renewing of the leather parts, the cleaning and renovation of the keyboard, the control of the bellows and the intoning of the organ and the tuning on the original pitch 435 Hz at the temperature 15 ´C was done.

As in 1914 the I World War cancelled the full accomplishment of the organ and the following decades hurt the pipery, that is only now on its 85 th anniversary that this instrument sounds on its highest. Tallinn Dome Church's days ´98, that were held from the 28 th to the 31th of October, were dedicated to the Sauerorgel and its importance to the parish's worshipping, the towns concert- and the Europe's cultural life.

See also disposition of organ



The southern view of the church

The view on the church from north-east

The Central nave of church

The view on organ's loft