Riga St. Peter’s Church is one of the oldest and most valuable buildings of medieval monumental architecture in the Baltic States. It is located in the historic centre of Riga which in 1997 was included among the UNESCO World Heritage sites.
13th century– Riga St. Peter’s Church first mentioned in documents in 1209. It was a small hall-type three aisle building with an aloof standing church tower.
14th century – the first public clock in the city installedin the tower.
15th century – the current basilica formed as a result of several reconstructions performed according to the design of master builder Johannes Rumeschotte from Rostock when the corona of the apse chapels was constructed in the High Gothic style. Construction work was fully completed by building a tower with an octagonal steeple. As a result, Riga St. Peter’s Church was transformed in a completely new building.
16th century –beginnings of the reformation movement and the following “religious image havocs” destroyed the altars of the City Council, Blackheads’ House and other public buildings as well as most of the church interior. From a cult building the church gradually turned into the mightiness symbol of the ruling class that held the political and economic power.
Historians believe that in the first half of the 16th century the big sacristy later named Bride’s Chapel was built at the Northern wall between the counterforts.
The tower of St. Peter’s was marked in the oldest graphical image of the city panorama which was printed in “Cosmography” issued by Sebastian Münter.
17th century– the tower of the church can be seen in the panorama printed from a copper carving in Nikolaus Mollyn’s printing house. The tower collapsed in 1666. The renovation of the church was started by Jacob Josten, the Dutch-born master builder of Riga. After the fire of 1677 the management of construction was undertaken by Rupert Bindenschu, the master builder of Riga born in Alsace.
The new tower was unveiled in 1690. It was designed with the shapes of Baroque architecture with several domes and galleries. The tower became the highest wooden construction in Europe and possibly in the world as well. Along with that the master builder of the city created the western façade of the building with three richly decorated masonry portals.
The 148 m high tower of Riga St. Peter’s Church occupied an honorary place among the towers of Riga for 175 years.
A fragment of a Panoramic Picture of Riga – Tower of St. Peter’s Church (Volf, copper carving, ca 1720.)
18th century –St. Peter’s Church represented an integrated sample of Baroque in the sacral architecture of Riga until 10 May, 1721 when lightning struck into the tower and set fire to the tower and the church. The renovation of the spire was assumed by Riga-born building master Johann Heinrich Wilbern in 1743. When building the tower Wilbern made significant changes in its silhouette and construction solutions.
The City Council of Riga ensured that the city clock restarted to show time and ring in full hours.
Drawing of St. Peter’s Church Tower (Broce, 1790)
19th century – Baltic Germanarchitect Johann Daniel Felsko made several reconstructions in the church. The marble pulpit created following architect Christopher Haberland’s design in Italy was installed. Following the drafts of the architect of the Cologne Cathedral Wincent Staz a hew altar was erected with the alter painting by Eduard Steinle from Frankfurt on the Mein. In 1859 according to the drafts by architect Christopher Haberland cast iron stoves made in Copenhagen and gas lighting were installed in the church. The church interior was transformed in 1880s under the direction of architect Reinhold Georg Schmaeling. He was also the designer of the organ prospect for the company “E.F.Walker und Co” organ. Stained glass was inserted in the windows of the Southern side aisle.
Under the growing capitalism the city bourgeoisie was developing and the church lost its representative role of the ruling class along with the collapse of the feudalistic administration body of the city.
View of the altar part. Beginning of 20th century
View of the organ prospect. Beginning of 20th century
20th century – the church was destroyed by artillery during World War II. On 29 June, 1941 the tower and roof burnt down and the church interior was entirely destructed.
St. Peter’s Church, altar part. 1941.
Systematic restoration of the church was started in 1954 by reconstructing the roof. In 1967 the restoration of the unique tower was assumed.
On 21 August, 1970 the newly built tower was unveiled in an official ceremony and a wind cone – a golden rooster was placed atop the steeple. The tower restoration was completed on 29 June, 1973 and now it is 123.25 metres high. On 1 November, 1973 the observation platform started its operation in the tower. The renovated tower clock began to show time again in July 1975. According to an ancient tradition, it was made with only an hour hand. A year later the bell music began in the clock. It plays the Latvian folk melody "Rīga dimd" five times a day and bells ring at the top of every hour.
The restoration continued inside the church and was completely finished in 1983 when the 30 m high middle aisle was commissioned featuring a new cover of vaults and new chapel corona of the altar part. Restored were also the charnels, including the Baroque Blue Guard Charnel and stone epitaphs. Since 1983 the restoration of the splendid wooden coat-of-arms-epitaphs was started which has been continued up to now.
The spacious hall of the church became a culture and art centre. The first exhibition was held in the restored tower part and it was a tapestry exhibition of Art Days 1974.
On 29 June, 1991 with a service held by priest Juris Rubenis the religious activity of the church was reassumed.
The first concert took place in the church on 1 February, 1991 – it was Requiem (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart) performed by the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra, a choir and soloists and conducted by Normunds Vaicis.
In 1992 the tradition was established to organize concerts “Musical Tuesdays” with the participation of students and faculty of Vitols’ Music Academy of Latvia which still take place.
In 1992 a plate was unveiled in honour of the visit to the church by Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia.
In 2001 a decorative plate was made in Riga St. Peter’s Church commemorating the existence of the historic starting point of the coordinates of the Republic of Latvia between 1921 and 1945.
On 1 March, 2012 the impressive bronze menorah made in 1596 returned to its ancient home – Riga St. Peter’s Church. After World War II the piece of the Late Renaissance art had reached the territory of Poland. There it was restored and was publicly displayed in Vloclavek Cathedral.
The huge menorah, previously called a standing candleholder, is 310 cm high and 378 cm wide. The making of this candleholder was ordered by the City Council of Riga to the metal founder Hans Meyer’s Riga foundry.