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ST. JEKABA’S CATHEDRAL IN RIGA (LATVIA)

ST. JEKABA'S CATHEDRAL IN RIGA (LATVIA)

ST. JEKABA'S CATHEDRAL IN RIGA (LATVIA)

St. Jekaba’s Cathedral (Jacob’s Cathedral) in Riga was built in the beginning of XIII century and it is the fourth biggest church in Riga. At first, the cathedral was outside the city walls. Several times the cathedral caught on fire; it was restored, rebuilt and expanded. Only the altar remains to this day of the original appearance of the cathedral. In XV century, a clock was put in the cathedral’s tower, the works of which was outside the tower under a kind of a porch. The appearance of the cathedral was changed most significantly in the second half of XVI century. Despite later reconstructions of the cathedral, its original porch has preserved. In 1756, the cathedral underwent its last significant reconstruction; the tower was covered with copper plates. In the cathedral’s tower there used to be the City Bell, which summoned Riga dwellers to the main square when public executions were held. In 1915, the bell was taken down and its traces get lost in Russia. Today St. Jekaba’s Cathedral is the seat of the archbishop of the Catholic Church of Latvia.

St. Jekaba’s Cathedral is a monument of brick Gothic architecture. Throughout several centuries, starting from the period of Swedish dominion and till the end of 1920s, the cathedral was a Lutheran Cathedra Church.

The height of the tower of the church with its spire is 80 meters. In the interior you can find a plant ornament rare to the gothic church sculptural decoration canon, which embellished the capitals on the choirs of the church. The capitals in their turn crown small columns and, in general, such interior components are unusual to Riga’s medieval church architecture.

Originally, the cathedral was of a hall type but at the present, after suffering numerous reconstructions, the cathedral is a three-nave basilica, which reaches the size of 27 by 50 meters in the layout. The tower is located over the central western bay (a niche in the aisle), where the rectangular side chapel is located. On the northern side of the church there is a sacristy. The main church hall (that is, the central nave of the temple) is divided by cross-like vaults of the plafond (and corresponding columns of the same shape) into six equal bays. As for the rest, the interior of the cathedral is quite simple and modest, which matches the concept of designing the décor of catholic religious buildings.

In 1736, upon the spire of the church a traditional weathercock in shape of a rooster was set, which successfully survived till this day.

In 1680, when the cathedral was the main royal Lutheran church, an altar was built, which is believed to be the earliest Baroque altar in Latvia. The authors of this altar are unknown. In 1902, it was decided to dissemble the “obsolete” altar and right after this precious sacred relic was exterminated the builders started to erect a new altar. Masters Christoff Mittelhausen and Jacob Schrade were invited for this purpose and they successfully fulfilled their responsibilities. Of the old altar only carved out figures of angels in Baroque style remained, which are now displayed at the exposition of wooden sculpture in the Museum of Riga’s History and Navigation.

After the interior was rebuilt (due to the change of confession in 1924), the altar was transferred from the center into one of the side-chapels of the church; and in its place another one appeared – the third one in succession. Some time later the old altar created by Christoff Mittelhausen and Jacob Schrade was moved to a catholic church of Mary the Magdalene. Then, in the modern period (in 1997), it was transferred to a newly built catholic church in Ogre, where it adorns its interior up till now.

The pulpit of St. Jekaba’s Cathedral can be rightfully called one of the most remarkable elements of its interior. The pulpit is done in Empire style. The interior of the cathedral is characterized with an intricate mixture of different architectural styles which were dominating in different epochs, while on the outside the church looks relatively uniform. As for the pulpit, it was built of a rare type of mahogany; its surface is covered with intarsia with rich plant ornamentation and elegant arabesques.

In 1761, organ master from Halle Henry Andrew Concius commenced his work to build an organ for the St. Jekaba’s Cathedral. Very soon the organ was finished and generous Lutheran community paid Concius 3400 thalers for the spent labor. To the present day only pleasant reminiscences and a prospect – a striking sample of Rococo style – are left of the first organ. This prospect is done in wood; it was painted and gilded. The new, modern organ was produced by Master E. Martin in 1913.

In 1886, in St. Jekaba’s Cathedral unscheduled restoration works were carried out, which led to discovery of a unique decorative painting under a later layer of whitewash, dating back to XV century. At the present moment the “unveiled” painting serves as a compositional decoration of the interior of the church’s building. In the left aisle of the cathedral one can see a fragment of the original layer of the vault’s painting that was lucky to survive till our day despite all the twists and turns of history, which more than once changed the way the cathedral looked on the inside.

In course of a long term church demolition violence of 1524 most of the cathedral’s treasures of artistic value perished. In the beginning of XX century, it became possible to discover some traces of the early execution of the interior. In 1922, in particular, Crucifixion’s Triumph was discovered, which had been lying in the attic facilities of the cathedral. It is hard to determine the exact time when this exclusive piece of cult of Catholic religion came into existence, but researchers suppose that Crucifixion’s Triumph was created in the period of time from 1380 to 1420. Crucifixion’s Triumph is rightfully considered to be one of the most ancient sculptural works on the territory of Latvia.

The history of church ground burials was affected by the city council’s decision passed in 1773 under influence of Reigning Empress Catherine the Great. According to this decision, to avoid severe epidemics it was necessary to put a ban on burials within church grounds in the city limits. Existing burials had to be taken out of the premises of the city-fortress. Many family crypts in St. Jekaba’s Cathedral as well as in the other churches of Riga were closed and walled with bricks, tombstones and ledgers were thoroughly assessed. Already existing gravestones were covered with a wooden cover, after which the floor of the cathedral was covered also. As for the most valuable and notable tombstones, it was decided to wall them into the church walls; similar picture can be observed in many Gothic churches of Riga. Among those placed in St. Jekaba’s Cathedral, it is worthwhile to mention C. Fet’s tombstone, which dates back to 1464; D. Rummel’s tombstone of 1474 and M. Fisher’s tombstone of 1490.

Much later, during restoration works, which were done in the cathedral in 1983, under the floor an ensemble of grave ledgers – unique one on the territory of Latvia –, was discovered. After scientists scrutinized this ensemble, the floor was covered with sand and on top of it ceramic tile was laid, which serves as the church flooring up to our days.

Stained glass created in XX century is mounted into the windows of St. Jekaba’s Cathedral. In particular, three colorful stained glasses adorning the windows of the eastern side of the choir were executed in 1902 in Modern style. In the same year, the old baroque altar was dissembled and the central window case was “freed” to be decorated with stained glass. When the stained glass windows were created, their author used sacred motif of a vine tree with its twining leaves and hanging down grapes, which traditionally symbolizes Holy Communion.

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