The generally acknowledged founder of Riga, Bishop Albert, laid the foundation stone for Riga Cathedral (originally St Mary’s) on 25 July 1211.
Today’s cathedral, the seat of the Archbishop of the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church and the largest medieval church in the Baltics dominates the Doma Laukums (square), in the centre of the Old City. It bears no resemblance to the original church. Over time, the building was renovated and remodelled numerous times. In 1524, as a result of the Reformation, it became a Protestant church at which point much of its elaborate interior decoration was destroyed.
Protestant ‘modifications’ in 1524 mattered little in the longer term as the cathedral had to be totally rebuilt following a devastating fire on the Sunday before Pentecost in 1547.
In 1595 a new tower with a pyramidal spire and galleries was added. The cathedral rooster from that tower can still be seen in the Cathedral cloister. I have referred to the predilection of Rigan Churches to adorn their spires with roosters in a separate review – Cock-a-doodle-do, which also specifically relates the story of the seven roosters of St Peters Church.
The cathedral took its current appearance, a mishmash of Romanesque, early Gothic, Baroque, and Art Nouveau styles, in the late 19th /early 20th century, though the current Baroque tower (under renovation when I visited) dates from the late 1700s.
During the time of the Soviet Union’s occupation of Latvia in the 20th century the Cathedral was forceably closed for religious services and, for a time, was converted into a concert hall.
Within the cathedral are a number of items which particularly appealed to me and, I feel, are worthy your close inspection including:
• Various plaques, depictions, tombs, epitaphs and pews related to St Maurice, the Livonian Merchants and the Brotherhood of Blackheads
• An 1884 organ built by Walcker & Co of Ludwigsburg, Germany which at the time was the world’s largest with 6718 pipes. To-day the organ is used for recitals and concerts, in addition to providing music for church services. Sadly it was under repair when I visited so I didn’t get to hear it being played
• Quite a few lovely stained glass windows including a couple of late 19 century windows depicting the Virgin Mary and Bishop Albert. Another window I found interesting depicts Wolter von Plettenberg, Teutonic knight and Master of the Livonian Order from 1494 to 1535, reading the edict proclaiming religious freedom and pledging protection from the Catholic Bishops in 1525. Interestingly, von Plettenberg did not convert to Lutheranism himself
• The clock mechanism from a former tower
• A elaborate and ornate wooden pulpit, carved in 1641 by Tobias Heincs and upgraded and surmounted with an angel by the sculptor Imhof in 1817
• A rather plain though old (12th century – yes, older than the first church) stone baptismal font.
Many equally interesting artefacts can be seen in the Cathedral cloister, entry to which is included in the church entry ticket.
The cross-vaulted gallery cloister, which connected Riga Cathedral (Dome) with a monastery, was constructed in the 13th century and is a beautiful example of Early Gothic architecture decorated, as it is, with training flowers, leaves, the images of people, birds and other animals.
The monastery, which was the seat of the highest college of clerics, or the Cathedral Chapter, no longer exists and, to-day, the cloister is used to display numerous articles from the Museum of the History of Riga and Navigation.
Among the large collection of coats of arms, tombstones, building fragments, cannons and other paraphernalia of war, all in themselves extremely interesting, within the cloister area you will also find:
• A life sized statue of Bishop Albert, the founder of both Riga and the cathedral. The original copper statue was crafted by Prof. Karl Bernewitz in 1897. This was removed at the beginning of WWI and ‘got lost’ on its way to St Petersburg for safe-keeping. What we see to-day, on the south wall of the cathedral, is copy of the original, by Latvian sculptors, donated to the cathedral by Baltic Germans during Riga’s 800th birthday celebrations
• The so-called Salaspils Stone Head which was uncovered in the cathedral yard during archaeological excavations in 2000. The head, possibly an idol for heathen worship, was carved in nearby Salaspils (to-day sadly best known as the site of a former Nazi concentration camp) in the 1850s and shortly thereafter given to Museum of the History of Riga and Navigation. Why it was buried and not uncovered until 2000 is unknown though presumably it was to avoid it being carted off by Soviet and or German occupiers for ‘safe-keeping’
• The cathedral’s 1595 weather vane which takes on the familiar rooster form seen on all of Riga’s older churches – see my separate review, Cock-a-doodle-do, for more details on Riga’s rooster weather vanes
• Carvings of St Maurice and the Virgin Mary which formerly adorned either side of the main entrance of the House of Blackheads. These would have been similarly coloured to those on today’s building, a picture of which you can see on my House of Blackheads review
• An urn, Cor Jochmannii, holding the heart of Carl Gustav Jochmann a distinguished early 19th century writer and philosopher
• A plaster replica of a statue of Russian Tsar Peter I
and so much more.
I spent upwards of a couple of hours rummaging around the cloister and the cathedral and loved it. With such an eclectic mix of things on display there is surely something that will appeal to everyone here.
The cloister is accessed via the Cathedral and, as such, shares the same opening hours and entrance fee.
Opening hours (2015):
1 May – 30 September, daily 09:00 to 18:00 with 17:00 close on Wednesday and Friday.
1 October – 30 April, daily 10:00 to 17:00
Address: Doma Laukums
Directions: Old City – Entrance via Riga Cathedral
This blog entry is one of a group (loop) of entries on the Old City area of Riga. I suggest you continue with my next entry – Barricades Monument – or to start the loop at the beginning go to my first entry – SamaraH Hotel Metropole – Riga.