Tallinn – St Nicholas’ Church


   Church of St. Nicholas was built between 1230 and 1275 by Westphal merchants, who came to Tallinn from Gotland in the 13th century. At that time a presbytery was erected with the sacristy located on its northern side, the three-aisle nave of the temple, and a low tower on the square plan from the west. In 1315, a cemetery was founded on the north side of the church. At that time, the town was not yet fortified, hence bars were placed in the portals and windows of the church to protect possible escapees from an external attack. When in the 14th century the town was encircled with defensive walls, the defensive function of the church lost its importance. It began to be a typical, medieval parish church.
Around 1350, the chapel of St. George and Saint Matthew was built. In the years 1405-1420, a new three-aisle chancel with a polygonal ambulatory and a new sacristy were erected, the central nave was raised, its windows were pierced and the shape of the basilica was given to the temple. In 1481, a new high altar appeared in the church, ordered earlier in the Hermen Rode workshop in Lubeck. In 1482, the church received the first small organ, replaced in 1489 with new, constructed by Herman Stüve from Wismar, and in 1486-1493 under the direction of master builder Andreas Kama, the chapel of St. Matthew, renamed later on St. Anton, was built. In 1510-1515, the tower was raised and topped with a late-Gothic helmet. Four pinnacles were added to the corners at its base. The construction master Andreas Mor directed the work.
Church of St. Nicholas was the only church in Tallinn that did not fall prey to the Reformation, which continued in 1523-1524. The parish council decided to flood the church’s locks with molten lead, in order to prevent the disturbed crowds from intruding into temple interior.
In 1577 the church suffered the first damages. During the Russian siege, its roof was partially destroyed as a result of the shelling. In the years 1682-1695, under the direction of the city builder Georg Winkler and the master carpenter Hans Dorch, the tower construction was strengthened, and the existing Gothic helmet was replaced with a Baroque one. In the years 1696, 1771 and 1883, the tower was renovated again and chancel was repaired in the 1846-1850, restoring its original form. Heavy losses brought the Second World War. In 1944, church was bombed by Soviet troops entering the town. Most of the interior was destroyed, fortunately the most valuable pieces of art were able to be taken out and secured in time. The reconstruction began in 1953.


   The original 13th-century temple was a three-aisle building with the chancel to the east and a sacristy situated on its northern side. From the west the church already had a low tower on a square plan. In the mid-fourteenth century, the chapel of Saint George and Saint Matthew was added. In the years 1405-1420, the church was thoroughly rebuilt. A new three-aisle chancel with a polygonal ambulatory and a new two-bay sacristy were erected. The central nave was raised, its windows being pierced over the aisles, thus giving the church of St. Nicholas form of the basilica. The vaults were given a rib shape, and the roof was covered with red tiles. In the years 1486-1493, the chapel of St. Matthew was rebuilt again, covering it with the rib vault and supporting it on the central pillar. In the years 1510-1515, the tower was raised and crowned with a late-Gothic helmet, in whose corners at the base, four pinnacles were added.

Current state

   The church is one of the best preserved medieval monuments of Tallinn, the more valuable that all the equipment saved during the war returned to the temple. Currently, it is intended for the exhibition hall of medieval art under the care of the Museum of Art of Estonia. Because its interior has excellent acoustics, it is also used as a concert hall. The most popular concerts include organ concerts and Sunday morning concerts. The main work of art is an altar made in the years 1478-1481 in the workshop of master Hermen Rode and located in the chapel of St. Anton (former Saint George and Saint Matthew) mural, Dance of the death of master Bernt Notke from Lubeck.

show this monument on map

return to alphabetical index