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ST JOHN's CHURCH IN TALLINN

The building of St. John's Church was directly inspired by the fact that the Holy Ghost Church, traditionally the parish church of Tallinn's Estonian population, had remained far too small for the 14,000-strong congregation. Collection of funds started in 1851. The magistracy of Tallinn who had patronage rights over the church gave permisiion to erect the new building outside the town walls, on a plot that had formerly belonged to the Domguild.

The blueprints of the church were ordered from Christoph August Gabler (1820-1884), a Tallinn-born man who had graduated from the St. Petersburg Academy of fine Arts as an architect and worked as provincial architect for Estonia from 1859 to the end of his days.

C. A. Cabler was the main supervisor of the project during its five-year construction period, with Carl Sensenberg as building master and foreman. In the initial phase of construction the most difficult work was building the foundations in the soft soil of the former moat. In order to reinforce the foundations, dozens of thick oak trunks were rammed into the ground.

The corner-stone of the new church was laid on 8 September 1862, Russia's millennium year. At the suggestion of the pastor, Theodor Luther, The church was named Jaani church, Jaan being an Estonian modification of the name of St. John the Evangelist.

The church became the fruit of the common work of many bricklayers, carpenters, joiners, glaziers, plasterers and painters of Estonian, German and Russian descent, and of hunderds of generous donators and the congregation itself, and was inaugurated on 17 December 1867, with a ceremony in which numerous guests of honour and a large crowd of townspeople took part. Many presents were brought: a bell, candelabra for the altar, chandeliers, a baptismal bowl, and a chalice.

The church is Neo-Gothic, built along established traditions. It is three-aisled, adjoined in the west to a tower with a pyramidal roof, in the east a polygonal choir with a separate roof, in the north a wide anteroom and in the souyh a spacious vestry. The main body of the church is basilican with the nave somewhat higher than the aisles, and additional lighting provided through a row of windows above the roofs of the aisles.

Both in the interior and exterior the dominant feature is the lancet arch borrowed from Gothic. The round rose windows, symbols of silence, above the main portal and in the walls of the anteroom are likewise standard Gothic fare, as is the masswerk tracery of the windows. Motifs drawn from the local, Tallinn brand of Gothic have also been used in the ornamentation of the church. This applies to the profiled imposts connecting the lancet archivolts and the faces of the portals, one of the principal features of 15th century architecture in Tallinn, as well as the manner in which the ends of the transerve arches are shaped like corbels. That element can be found also in St. Mary's Cathedral, St. Nicholas' Church and St. Olai's Church.

The altar, the chapel, the organ loft, the doors and the pews all have pleasant proportions and decor. The stained wood altar frame is dominated by its upper part where the triangular gable is bordered with a carved crocket ornament and flanked by slender pinnacles. The altar frame and the holy table are the work of the master F. Kühne.

The altarpiece, Christ on the Cross, is by Professor Karl Gottlieb Wenig, Academician of the St. Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts.

The polygonal chancel was made by the master G. J. Moikow, and the sounding board with a frilly Gothic edge by the carver F. Sporleder.

A neo-Gothic organ made by G. Normann was inaugurated in 1869 and stayed in service until 1911. A new pneumatic-action organ was installed by August Terkmann in 1913. It is by now completely worn out and needs to be replaced by a new one.

The area in the vicinity of the church was built up at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. Building activity along the perimetre of Vabaduse (Freedom) Square culminated in the 1930s when the square received its present-day appearance. Unfortunately the new functional and art deco buildings sharply contrasted with the neo-Gothic house of worship, which led the government to contemplate pulling it down in the course of further resconstruction of Vabaduse Square. In 1936-38 there was prologned controversy with the congregation, and although the latter opposed the idea it was still decided the church would have to go.

Those plans were thwarted by the starting Soviet occupation in 1940 and the ensuing war. In the 1950s the idea of demolition was again taken up by some avant guard architects. St. John's, however, stands in the square as ever before.

Krista Kodres

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Vabaduse väljak 1, 10146 Tallinn, Estonia | phone +372 644 6206, +372 5663 4624, fax +372 641 8417 | e-mail: tallinna.jaani@eelk.ee