Located in the old town of Tallinn, the
former church is now a branch of the Art Museum
of Estonia and contains the most
extensive collection of ecclesiastic art in Estonia.
The church itself is believed to have been founded in the middle of the
13th century, although the first written record of it dates from
Constructed by German merchants it has a rectangular chancel: The
three-ailed main body, a vestry and the lower part of the tower were added by
the end of the century. The main body of the church at that time was the same
as the current one although considerably lower.
at that time did not have a town wall, the church also served as fortification,
having narrow windows, defence passages along the outer walls with sanctuaries
above the aisle and heavy bars to close off the entrances.
During the 14th century, a number of chapels were built at
the northern end and the chapel of St Matthew was constructed at the southern
side of the tower.
The 15th century was a time of prosperity for Tallinn, resulting in
significant reconstruction of the church. It was during the first two decades
that the chancel and nave took on its current appearance, with the replacement
of the original chancel with one as wide as the main body of the church, which
was covered with simple groined vaults. The reconstruction resulted in the
enlarging of the windows and the positioning of buttresses to support the walls
in order to resist the trust from the vaults. It also included the construction
of a new vestry. From 1486 – 1493 the
chapel of St Matthew was rebuilt, and was to become known as the Chapel of St
Andrew. This gave it the present four-bays with a central pillar. In the
subsequent years, the tower was raised and strengthened.
During the night of 9th March 1944 Tallinn was bombed by the Soviet Air Force,
resulting in the church suffering extensive damage though fire; destroying most
of the historical interior, including the pulpit and the benches. In 1953
reconstruction work began and in 1984 the church was adapted as a museum and
concert hall. Today it is one of the most beautiful examples of Late-Gothic
architecture in Estonia
and is dedicated to St Nicholas, the Patron Saint of merchants and seamen and
contains exhibits from the 13th to the 18th centuries.
Located in one of the chapels is the Danse Macabre or Dance of Death by
Bernt Notke (1440-1509). It is the most well-known medieval artwork in Estonia and is
the only medieval Danse Macabre painted on canvas. This work is only part of
the original, although it is not known how much larger the original was. Another Danse macabre painted by Notke is
known to have had 49 figures; the segment here contains 13 figures.
The church also contains a number of altar pieces and (a framed altar
piece consisting of at least three parts which has a central panel and is
flanked by wings which can be folded) from the Middle Ages depicting various
scenes. It also contains many sculptures and carvings including one of St
Christopher holding a staff in one hand and carrying a globe on his back
symbolizing Christ and the sins of the world. This once formed part of the
support for the pulpit of the church, the remainder of which was destroyed in
the bombing of 1944.
The Baptistery dates from the 1680s and is the only preserved Lutheran Baptistery
Octagonal in shape the azure walls surrounded the font which
is in the shape of chalice, which has not survived.
A number of tombstones are located in the church, both on the floor and
hanging on the walls. Other items of note are the Epitaphs in the form of icons
and coats of arms.
The church also contains a silver chamber which houses a fine
collection of silver.