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St. John’s Church
The oldest church in Riga, built on the foundations of Bishop Albert’s palace.
The oldest part of the church, the chapel, was done in Gothic style in several stages, beginning 1234. The altar was built on the foundation of the first stone building in Riga, the Bishop’s palace. In the cellars under the altar, the only surviving section of one wall of the Bishop’s palace can be still seen by members of the public (a visit to the cellar has to be booked in advance).
The most impressive part of the church is its unique dome. The altar room is an example of Nordic renaissance in Latvia, while the retable is in the reserved style of Riga Baroque. The outer wall of the altar room is decorated by the only outdoor renaissance sculptures in Latvia – sculptures of John the Baptist and Salome created in the 16th century.
Do not miss the chance to attend a choir and/or organ music concert!
St. John’s Church in Riga is also known as the most sonorous church in Riga thanks to a four-manual organ with over 60 ranks. Organ concerts are held in the church every Saturday at 6 p.m. May to October.
History of the church
The church was originally a chapel in Bishop Albert’s palace, which was first mentioned in written accounts in 1209. The chapel was located in the eastern wing of the palace.
When the Bishop of Riga moved to his new residence in Dome Cathedral, his former building was given to the Dominicans who set up a cloister in what is now the Jana Seta (Konventhof) complex, and expanded the chapel by rebuilding it into St. John’s Church from 1234 and 1297.
As Riga turned Lutheran, St. John’s Church became home to the first Latvian parish in Riga in 1582. This is where the first sermons were delivered in Latvian.
After several reconstructions, the Medieval part of the building acquired its present appearance in around 1500 – the high Gothic crow-stepped gable and roof pitch with a small tower. The church was several times expanded and rebuilt after fires, the most important addition was the construction of the altar room in 1589.