Church of St. James was first recorded in historical sources in 1226. Its construction began with the chancel, and in the second half of the 13th century, the nave was erected. The main construction works were completed around 1300, although the two upper floors of the tower were not erected until the end of the 15th century. At the beginning of the 15th century, the chapel of Holy Cross was added, and in the middle of that century the church was transformed from a hall into a basilica.
Initially, the temple was a parish church, located outside the city walls. It provided spiritual patronage for suburban residents and travelers who came after closing city gates. The church was especially popular among craftsmen from Riga and its suburbs, who, organized in guilds, founded numerous altars there. It got into the fortifications of the enlarged city organism at the turn of the 13th and 14th centuries after the fortifications of the northern part of Riga were built.
With the beginning of the Reformation in 1524, the building suffered during urban riots and the interior was destroyed. In 1552, the church became the first Protestant temple in Riga. In 1582, when Riga came under the rule of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the church was handed over to the Jesuits. In 1621 it returned to Lutherans when the Swedish army under the command of king Gustav II Adolf occupied Riga. Then the tower received a new Baroque spire. In 1812 the church was used by the Napoleonic army as a food warehouse, and in 1923 it was again handed over to Catholics, after the Riga cathedral became a Lutheran cathedral.
The church finally received the form of a three-aisle, small basilica with only two bays in the central nave. On the eastern side, there is the oldest part of the building, a four-sided, single-bay chancel measuring 10.8 x 10.3 meters, lower than the central nave, but of greater width, covered with a separate, gable roof. The west side of the church was dominated by a Gothic, massive four-sided tower with facades decorated with blendes and friezes, flanked from the north and south by two annexes, which are an extension of the aisles. In the years 1404-1436, on the southern side of the nave, the chapel of Holy Cross was built, and later a sacristy was dded to the northern side of the chancel.
The external façades of the church remained smooth, because the buttresses were pulled inside, and between them in each bay of the aisle from the north and south, a large pointed window was pierced. Three narrow but high windows were placed in the eastern wall of the presbytery, above which the gable part was separated by four lines of a toothe frieze. The triangular space of the gable is vertically divided by a pilaster stripe separating on the sides two large panels crowned at the edges with diagonally led arcades mounted on small consoles.
Inside, the whole church was covered with rib vaults, set in the nave on massive pillars of a cross-section with stepps in the corners. The chancel was opened to the central nave with a pointed arcade, similar but wider arcades were also created between the aisles.
The church has retained its original, medieval appearance, not counting a few early modern modifications: the spire of the tower, the Baroque portal of the western facade, windows and northern facade transformed at the end of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century, a massive buttress added to the north-west corner, a reconstructed damaged frieze and a renovated east gable.
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.