In 1282 Riga joined the North German city trading union, Hansa. The Hanastic League governed all trade along the Baltic seacoast until the 19th century. The League founded the Guild of the Holy Spirit in Riga with the mission of ”fostering conviviality, genteel socialising, feasting, charity and spirituality” among its merchant and master-craftsmen members. Sounds to me like a year round Oktoberfest though that is probably a little less genteel and lacking in the spirituality department!

In 1354 the Guild of the Holy Spirit split into two separate guilds – the Great (St Mary’s) and Small (St John’s) Guilds. The Great Guild catered for the more wealthy merchant class while the Small Guild consisted of master-craftsmen and artisans. It was mainly to the Great Guild that many members of the more famous and more bawdy Brotherhood of Blackheads graduated when they became more refined and respected members of Rigan society.

The buildings which we see to-day, on either side of Amatu iela, were the meeting places of the respective Guilds though both have been added to and otherwise changed over the years.

The current (built in 1854 – 57) Gothic style Great Guild building (pictures 1 – 3 above) incorporates part of a former Franciscan monastery and the Muenster Hall, a civic meeting room dating from 1330. It also retains the beautifully decorated 1521 Fireplace Room (formerly Bride’s Chamber) wherein Guild members or their offspring were permitted to spend their wedding nights.


The Small Guild (picture 4), based on pictures I have seen of both interiors, is the more striking and ornate of the two buildings. The present building was constructed in 1864-66.

The Great Hall, within the Great Guild, has been the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra’s concert hall since 1941 while the Small Guild now hosts conferences and the like. Both guilds ceased to exist with the outbreak of WWII and the Soviet occupation of Lativa.

While I believe tours of the Small Guild are available, due to lack of time, I didn’t get to enter either building. I would certainly aim to do so on any return visit to Riga.

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 – Riga Black Balsam – or to start the loop at the beginning go to my first entry – SamaraH Hotel Metropole – Riga.

One thought on “Great & Small Guild Halls

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