Tartu (Dorpat) – cathedral of St Peter and Paul


   On the cathedral hill in Dorpat, there was originally one of the large hillforts of the pagan Ests, which was destroyed in 1224 by Christian crusaders. After the transfer of the capital of the bishopric to Leal and giving the city a location privilege, in 1231 the construction of the Dorpat cathedral began. It was consecrated to the patrons of the city, Apostles Saint Peter and Paul, and put into use around 1299. The cathedral soon became the main church of the diocese and one of the largest sacral buildings in Eastern Europe. All construction works on the choir and towers were completed in the second half of the fifteenth century.
In the mid-20s of the sixteenth century, the Reformation reached the city, which in 1525 caused the cathedral to be severely damaged as a result of the iconoclast revolt. In the following years, the temple declined more and more. After deportation to Russia of the last Catholic bishop of Dorpat, Hermann II Wesele, the cathedral was finally abandoned. In the years 1558-1583 during the Livonian War between the Polish-Lithuanian state and Sweden, Denmark and the Rus tsar, the troops of Ivan the Terrible destroyed Dorpat. When in 1582 the city fell to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, new Catholic rulers planned to rebuild the cathedral. However, after the next Polish-Swedish war of the early seventeenth century, these plans were abandoned. The fire of 1624 completed the destruction of the cathedral.
In 1629 Dorpat got into the hands of the Swedes, who did not show much interest in the fate of the ruined cathedral. During the Swedish rule, the cathedral continued to deteriorate, its area was used until the eighteenth century as a cemetery, and the main building as a barn and granary. In the 1860s, both towers were dismantled to the height of the nave and rebuilt into a cannon platform.
In 1802 the University of Dorpat was reopened. On behalf of tsar Alexander I, architect Johann Wilhelm Krause, designed a reconstruction of the chancel of the cathedral into the university library. The adaptation work lasted from 1804 to 1807. In the years 1927-1928, the library was expanded, subsequent changes were carried out in the 1960s. It was not until 1981 that a new library building was erected for the needs of the university, and the Historical Museum of the University of Tartu was arranged in the empty presbytery of the cathedral.


   The cathedral was originally an orientated building in the form of a basilica, later a three-nave, hall chancel was added to it. Around 1470 the chancel was rebuilt in the brick gothic style, and the completion of the construction process was the finishing of the western facade with a pair of massive, twin defensive towers. Their height reached 66 meters. The cathedral was originally surrounded by the cemetery and houses of the cathedral chapter members.

Current state

   Today, the cathedral is one of the architectural symbols of Tartu and one of the most magnificent monuments of sacred brick gothic architecture in the area of Livonia. In the eastern part of the former cathedral, which is the former chancel, is now the Historical Museum of the University of Tartu. It stores historical memorabilia related to the university, scientific instruments and a valuable book collection. The remaining part of the cathedral was secured in the form of a ruin, which is open to visitors from Monday to Sunday from 11.00-17.00.

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