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 dedicated to the apostles St. Peter and Paul, patrons of the town. Although its construction and the plans according to which it was to be erected changed many times, the cathedral soon became the main church of the diocese and one of the largest sacral buildings in Eastern Europe.
   The first stage of construction works was completed around 1262. Then, the construction of the nave was continued, which originally had the form of a basilica, later it was rebuilt into a hall, to finally regain the shape of a basilica. In 1328, construction works were stopped at a quite accidental stage, perhaps the reason for this was a great fire in Dorpat. Presumably in the 1330s, the construction of the hall church was continued, the outer walls and chapels on the north side were completed. Already as a basilica, the nave was completed around the mid-fourteenth century. Under Bishop Dietrich III Damerow, around 1380, the construction of a new presbytery began, but for political reasons, the work was significantly extended until the 1470s. The construction was crowned with the western towers completed at the end of the 15th 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.


   At the end of the Middle Ages, the cathedral took the form of an orientated, three-aisle basilica-shaped building, on the eastern side also having a three-aisle, but hall chancel with an ambulatory, and on the west side a facade with a pair of massive twin defensive towers. The total length of the church reached 91.6 meters, width 30.9 meters, and the original height of the tower was 66 meters. The building was completed by a four-sided chapel on the south side of the presbytery. The cathedral was originally surrounded by a cemetery and houses of members of the cathedral chapter as well as a stone wall with which the southern tower was connected by a wooden bridge.
   The nave was composed of three aisles stretched along the length of eight bays with rectangular bays in the central nave, with longer sides perpendicular to the axis of the church and with bays on a square plan in the aisles. Narrow side chapels were inserted into the spaces between the buttresses from the north and south, between which, at the height of the fifth bays from the west, they were placed the entrance for the citizens in the open vestibules. The main, ceremonial entrance to the cathedral was located on the west side. Before the erection of the western massif, there was a porch on the axis of the facade, then a pointed, stepped portal was pierced in the space between the towers.
   The walls of the ambulatory around the original, single-nave chancel were built in two stages. Initially, external walls about 5 meters high were erected, because the basilica form was apparently planned, just like in the nave. Later, the external walls were raised to the shape of a hall presbytery, and the whole was enclosed with high, three and double-stepped buttresses, between which large ogival windows were pierced, divided by traceries into three lights. Inside, the shape and arrangement of the pillars were consistent with the nave.

Current state

   Today, the cathedral is one of the architectural symbols of Tartu and one of the greatest and at the same time the most monumental building 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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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.
Website wikipedia.org, Katedra w Tartu.