Tallinn – St Catherine Friary


   Dominican Friary of St. Catherine (Püha Katariina Klooster) functioned in Tallinn in its present place at least from 1246, and probably from 1229/1239 in a different area. Then the Dominicans were given a large piece of land on the outskirts of the city, initially outside the city walls, on the edge of the path leading to the port. In the mid-thirteenth century, the shoreline and port were much closer to the city, which had a beneficial effect on the economic development of the monastery, as an intermediary in the trade in fish and other goods imported by sea. Relations with the guild of the Brotherhood of the Blackheads in Tallinn were also important, as they made material donations to the monastery, for which the monks, in turn, patronized the members of the community.
   The construction of stone monastery buildings and the church began around the 60s of the 13th century. At the end of the thirteenth century, the church and at least part of the eastern wing of the enclosure were probably completed. Serious construction work in the church and enclosure also took place at the end of the 14th and early 15th centuries. Around 1500, a new refectory was created in the north wing and the cloisters were rebuilt. At the beginning of the 16th century, the monastery complex obtained its final, full appearance, although construction works mentioned in the sources in the 1520s are also known, i.e. immediately before the Reformation and the end of the monastery.

The monastery was destroyed during the Reformation in 1524, when a raging crowd invaded the church and forced the monks to leave the city. The property of the order and the monastery was considered as a property of the city. Unfortunately, as a result of a fire in 1531, the church and part of the eastern and northern buildings were damaged. Since then, they have been inhabited by the poor and the homeless. Partial demolitions, mainly the northern wing of the monastery, occurred in the nineteenth century, due to the construction of a new, nearby church of St. Peter and Paul. Also in the nineteenth century, most of the walls of the neglected and dilapidated church collapsed.


   The main part of the monastery was the church of St. Catherine, one of the largest buildings in medieval Tallinn. The length of the church with the apse was 67.7 meters, width 18.5 meters, and the area of ​​1,219 square meters. Finally, at the end of the Middle Ages, it had the form of a three-aisle structure in an eight-bay, hall system, with a single bay of a pentagonal closure in the east, on the extension of the central nave. On the south-eastern side, a slender turret was placed in the corner of the building.
   From the outside, the church had simple facades, only the entrance portals gained a more decorative form. The interior of the church was divided into a generally accessible nave and a choir used only by monks. The side aisles and indirectly the central nave were illuminated by large ogival windows with traceries, partly decorated with colorful stained glasses. The whole church was topped with high cross-rib vaults, with the exception of the eastern apse in which two additional ribs were embedded. Under the choir there was a vaulted crypt with four aisles and six bays, some of which were used by monks, and in the 15th / 16th century by the city council to store the cannons there. The interior of the church was enriched by numerous altars (there were about 15 of them), funded by burghers and municipal guilds.
   The monastery buildings located to the north of the church surrounded an inner, almost square-shaped patio by three wings and cloisters. From the outside, the cloisters were reinforced with buttresses, at least in part they were two-story and covered with a rib vault. They provided access to all the most important rooms and the church, without the need to go out into the cold and bad weather. It was especially important to connect the dormitory in the east wing with the church, so that the brothers could quickly go to the night and morning prayers. In the monastery courtyard there was a well supplying the convent with drinking and utility water and a small garden. After the dissolution of the Dominican monastery, the city moved its arsenal to the patio.
   The most important of the enclosure buildings was the eastern wing, with a basement and a two floors, housing the most important rooms of the monastery. From the side of the church, there was a sacristy, and then a chapter house with a square plan with a vault based on a central pillar. Behind it there was a narrow room, later used as a library, and in the corner a large hall of the old refectory. On the first floor there was a brothers’ dormitory, which was probably divided into small cells with light partition walls. The head of the monastery probably had a separate, larger room, as did some of the more important brothers.
   In the northern wing there was the so-called a new refectory, more solemn and more spacious than the old one. It was a two-aisle hall with a length of four bays, covered with a vault supported by three pillars. Most of the two-story west wing was filled with the lay brothers’ room. Probably there was also a monastery kitchen and other utility rooms. On the west side, the monastery granary was in contact with the church building.

Current state

   A part of the inner courtyard and the monastery buildings and cloisters surrounding it from the east and west, as well as two entrance portals to the church, have survived to our times. In the east wing, all the most important rooms of the monastery have been preserved: the chapter house, the alleged library, part of the former refectory, dormitory and sacristy. The northern wing of the monastery was unfortunately transformed into a church in the 19th century. As a result of a fire in 1531 and two collapses from the nineteenth century, of the monastery church only the foundations, a partially vaulted crypt under the choir, the lower zone of the west and south walls and partially the north wall, the lower part of the tower and part of the apse walls have been preserved. In total, the ruins of the convent of St. Catherine’s are one of the best-preserved urban monastic complexes throughout Livonia, and at the same time the only partially preserved mendicant convent there.

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Alttoa K., Bergholde-Wolf A., Dirveiks I., Grosmane E., Herrmann C., Kadakas V., Ose J., Randla A., Mittelalterlichen Baukunst in Livland (Estland und Lettland). Die Architektur einer historischen Grenzregion im Nordosten Europas, Berlin 2017.