Sacral Architecture of Medieval Riga

New Catholic Christian German government along with castles and fortifications built many churches to establish their power. Many them still remain in Riga and serves as the monuments of history. Some of the churches are important outside Europe for the church of Saint Peter was tallest tower in Europe for some time.

In old Medieval Riga which today is known as the Old Riga there were eight churches. First versions of these churches were built from wood so we don’t know how they looked like. All churches have many different building stages, so they don’t look monolith, for building time was long and plans changed many times.

First church of Riga was the Dome Cathedral. It was started in 1215. It was finished at 1300. in Romanesque style and Gothic style. Although it has no dome it was called Dome cathedral because Latvian and German name Doms meant cathedral.  Dome Cathedral was Catholic church until 16. century when in the event of Reformation it was given to Lutheran church. Cathedral interior got many Baroque and Classicism style upgrades during the years and today Cathedral is compilation of Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque and Classicism.  In 20. century late thirties around the Cathedral government ordered to remove block of buildings to create new square. The square was called in honor of 1934. 15. May when Karlis Ulmanis came to power. In result the cathedral got its own square which its now called as the Dome square. Square is home to many festivities during the summer, it often serves as the place for political rallies. In summer its best place where to enjoy Latvian beer. One the notable cathedral landmarks are enormous pipe organs built in 1884. and were the largest pipe organs in the world at that time. Organs still works today. Cathedral is also used for academic concerts. During the 1991. January barricade movement cathedral was used as hospital.

Dome Catherdral from old postcard

The Large organs of Dome Cathedral

Near the Latvian Parliament there is church of Saint James. Church was first mentioned in 1225.  It was built in Gothic style. After the Reformation church became a Catholic Cathedral and the main center for Latvian Catholic church.

The tower of St. James church

St. Peters Church

St. Peters church was built as merchant church and first mentioned 1216. The church was built in large size and most largest component was its tower. But the tower was destroyed many times. In 1721. the tower was struck by lightning and caught fire. In rescue works Peter I The Great, Emperor of Russia  helped to extinguish burning tower. He was at Riga at the following moment.  In 1941. the tower was again bought down by German artillery shells. Tower was used as observing post for Soviets and was destroyed by Germans. But Germans themselves blamed Jews for the calamity and used this to justify the Holocaust. Church was in ruins for many years until in 1973. it was restored. In 2009. the Church Golden Rooster was bought down for repair works. It was done by skilled Alpinist’s.   Today tower is 123 meters high and is used as tourist attraction. From 70 meters tourists can view Riga from above.

The church of St. John is small beautiful with Gothic look and fine stained glass paintings.

The church St. John

In the Modern age near the old Medieval churches new ones were built. Church of Reformates  was built in 1732. Near the Dome Cathedral in 1785. the Church Our Lady of Suffering a fine Catholic church with magnificent interior. The most recent church is Anglican Church built in 1858. The Church has became notorious for fundamental Christians and homophobes, because the Church leaders openly supports same-sex marriages here.

The three tall towers of Riga Churches made essential Riga landmark. From opposite side of Daugava you can see these three churches as they dominate Riga skyline.

Modern era engraving showing all three Riga Church towers


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