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Churches in Riga

The spires of the Old Riga Churches are one of the most beautiful symbols of Riga. In the centre of Riga next to each other ancient chapels rise, that throughout centuries have been owned by both Catholic and Protestant congregations. The golden “onions” of orthodox and old-believers cathedrals and preaching houses are an integral part of Riga as well, like Synagogue on Peitavas Street, which is one of the Art Nouveau architecture pearls of the capital city.

In Riga churches are held also by Baptists, Methodists, the Seventh-Day Adventists, New Apolistic and other congregations. On of the newest churches in Riga is the Church of the Armenian Apolistic Church congregation on Konjusalas Street.

Riga Dome Cathedral

The towers of the most ancient churches of Riga, which are also the closest to the bank of the Daugava River – Dome Cathedral, St. Peter’s, St. John’s and St. Jacobs – instead of a cross are decorated with a rooster. According to Christian traditions, the rooster is a vigilant defender against evil, and its morning song can scare away the devil. The roosters on top of the towers had practical use as well - they had been weathercocks and had set the daily rhythm of Riga as a harbour city, where many sailors landed.

The most important church in Riga is the Dome Cathedral. It is the cathedral of the Latvian Evangelic Lutheran Archbishop and one of the most outstanding concert halls in the world. The foundation-stone in an official ceremony lead by Bishop Albert was laid on 25 July 1211, but the first as well as the next buildings of the Church suffered a lot in city fires. Upon every renovation the Dome Cathedral changed its appearance, but merging of the different styles has not harmed the monumentality of the Church. Nowadays the general medieval interior of the Dome Cathedral is no longer present, but many evidences of those times have remained. For example, the wooden chairs and their inner plates of the side panels decorated by carvings, more than fifty cemetery gravestones and monuments, as well as the Baltic Pearl – Riga Dome Cathedral Northern entrance “Paradise Portal” with depiction of the Coronation of Mary. Also the stained glass windows deserve special attention. They were installed in the Gothic aisles only at the end of the 19th century, when the renovation works were begun in 1885 by the Dome Construction Department of the Union of the History and Antiquity Researchers. The stained glass windows demonstrate also the highest artistic and crafts achievements of those times and displays the work of outstanding masters.

Riga Dome Cathedral has acquired its world fame for its organ by E.F.Walcker&Co built in 1883 and 1884, which is recognised as one of the most valuable historic pipe organs in the world. The organ of Riga Dome Cathedral has 124 stops, 4 manuals and one pedal, 6718 various size and material pipes. Ferenc Lizst composed “Nun danket alle Gott” dedicated to the confirmation of the organ.

St Peter’s Church

The highest tower in the Old Riga belongs to the St Peter’s Church – till the World War II it was considered to be the highest wooden building in Europe (120.7 m). Built in 1209, the Gothic style church has changed and suffered throughout the centuries not only from the fights between confessions, massacres of icons, but also from the fires. The lighting has struck the tower of St Peter’s Church six times! The impressive tower was last destroyed at the beginning of the World War II on 29 June 1941, exactly on the Peter's Day. Now the tower of the St. Peter’s Church rises 123.25 m high (the renovation was completed on 29 June 1973, on Peter’s Day as well) and instead of wood it is built from metal with an in-built elevator, which takes the viewers on the view platform to the height of 72 meters. There is a clock in the tower, which by tradition has only the hour hand, for five times a day it starts a full hour with the melody of the Latvian national folk song “Rīga Dimd”.

A special story can be told about the rooster of St Peter’s Church. The first rooster landed on the church tower in 1491. This is already the seventh rooster of the St Peter’s Church, which has been showing the direction of wind on the tower since 21 August 1970. It weighs 158 kilograms, it is 210 cm tall from its beak till tail and is 153 cm high from its crest till underbelly. The construction of the rooster is formed of copper base covered in 0.07 mm thick golden plates.

St Jacob’s Church

The construction of St Jacob’s Catholic Cathedral located next to the Saeima – the Parliament of the Republic of Latvia – was begun around 1225 in the early forms of the Gothic style. Although uncertain statements of historians tell that the first wooden building was erected there already in 1203 by the order of Kaupo, Lybian Chief of Turaida. Following the invitation of Pope Innocent III, Kaupo accompanied by his confessor travelled to Rome, where he received the copied Holy Writs of St. Gregory, as well funds for construction of the church as a gift. Unfortunately during the great fire of Riga in 1215 the church burnt down.

St Jacob's Church was first mentioned in historical documents in 1225, but the exact date of church construction is unknown. Likewise, the masters who built it are unknown. Possibly they built also the Dome Cathedral, because in many significant details both churches are similar, for example, in the cruciform columns, in the Northern portal, in arcade bands… This comparatively small church has an impressive, tall tower, which has retained its characteristic pyramidal shape compared to other towers of Riga medieval churches. Initially the God was prayed here by the Brothers of Order, then by the Catholic congregation and then by the nuns of Cistercian Monastery (people named it also the monastery of the singing maidens), but in 1522 sermons read at St Jacob's Church and St. Peter's Church introduced the Reformation.

After the Reformation it became the Riga Latvian Church, where sermons were read in the local “Non-German language” as well or in Latvian, but in 1582 the Polish King Stephen Bathory repurchased it from the city and allocated to Jesuits. But the Swedish King Gustav II Adolf evicted Jesuits and turned the church into a Lutheran church of the Swedish garrison, but after 1710 St. Jacob’s Church was turned into a Russian Coronal Church. In September 1736 in St. Jacob’s Church the founder of brother’s congregation or Herrnhuters, Count Nikolaus Ludwigvon Zinzendorfhad preached. Now St. Jacob’s church is the Cathedral of the Roman Catholic Church Archbishop.

Synagogues and Cathedrals

On Peitavas Street the Synagogue of Riga is located (Peitav šul). It was the only one of the four Choral synagogues of Riga that was not burnt down by Nazis on 4 July 1941. The building was erected in 1905 in Art Nouveau style, the decorations were implemented in the Ancient Egypt theme. During the war a storehouse was located in the Synagogue, but the Eastern wall, where the cabinet of Torah rolls was located turned out to be covered, therefore the rolls have been miraculously preserved. After the War on Peitavas Street public services were renewed, although the Jewish religious life in the Soviet Union was not accepted. This was one of the four synagogues in the USSR with its own choir.

At the beginning of Brivibas Street in the Esplanade the Cathedral of the Orthodox Christ the Saviour is located that was erected from 1876 to 1884. From 1964 to 1990 the “House of Knowledge” and planetarium were located in this building, as well as one of the most popular cafés of those time “The God’s Ear”, a well-known meeting place of artists, musicians, poets and other “wrong intellectuals”.

One of the most interesting sacral tourism objects in Riga is the white, tall Riga Grebenshikov's Old Believers Preaching House, locatedin Moscow suburb. Its golden dome can be seen when approaching Riga centre from Pardaugava over the Salu Bridge. The “ideological foundations” of the building were laid in 1760 as a shed that throughout centuries of transformation has acquired Byzantine features, but the tall bell tower built in 1905 and 1906 with gilded “onion” gives the building Art Nouveau look.

Grebenshikov's Old Believerscongregation is the largest in the world, still about 20 000 people consider themselves its members, and while serving the God they still follow the ancient traditions and perform the ancient chants. The Preaching House owns a rich collection of the 15th to 19th century icons, books and manuscripts.