Skip to main content

Two Churches in Riga, Latvia


The 13th century was a busy one for church-building in Riga, then a relatively new city with growing trade around the Baltic. Its cathedral dates to the early years of the century, and the same period gave birth to two large churches, back-to-back, only a few blocks away from the cathedral.

20230916_13171620230915_210041P1340809St Peter's, exterior and interior views

In the beginning, they weren't as large as they are today. St Peter's, the larger of the two, existed already by 1209, but only its middle section had been built. The rear and front sections, with the great tower, were built in the 15th century.

P134084320230914_16435720230915_205928A view from the balcony, which houses the entrance to the elevator for views from the tower. The rooster is one of seven that has topped the spire over time

P1340811P1340812St Peter's pulpit, and a plaque marking its 1522 adherence to the Reformation

P1340841P1340839Screenshot 2024-02-01 153346St Peters, in background, after an artillery battle in June 1941

Stepping back to the 13th century, while St Peter's was being built, less than a hundred meters away, a small Dominican chapel was built on the site of the old Bishop's palace. Over time, and through many expansions, it, too, became a Lutheran parish church, dedicated to  St John's. After the Reformation, it expanded even further in several stages, reaching its present size in the late 17th century.

20230916_13091320230916_13093720230916_130945Interior views of St John's church

Both churches show signs of many architectural styles accumulated over the years of expansion and especially reconstruction after multiple disasters, including the 1677 Great Fire, repeated collapses of St Peter's steeple, almost one every century until the 1700s and finally World War II bombs and fires.


The two churches have active Lutheran congregations today, although St Peter's was only returned to church use after Latvia left the Soviet Union in 1991. Both churches, as we see them today, are both developments and restorations of themselves, done in a way that is sufficiently seamless that only an architectural historian could pick out all the detail.

20230916_131246Yes, it does remind me a bit of a face...


While the main facade of St Peter's church faces out onto a large square where sometimes outdoor events are held, St John's faces a narrow alley; it took me a day or so to figure out where the entrance was; that only became clear when I turned into the alley on my way to somewhere else!


Both churches serve as concert venues as well as their religious functions, and St Peter's has, over the years, hosted parts of the annual national song festival. An exhibit of posters there shows the history of the festival, originating as a way of developing national pride and culture. The varying tone of the posters over time is an interesting reflection of changing politics and circumstances.



Images (34)
  • 20230914_164357
  • 20230915_205928
  • 20230915_210041
  • 20230915_210051
  • 20230916_131716
  • P1340809
  • P1340811
  • P1340812
  • P1340815
  • P1340823
  • P1340827
  • P1340833
  • P1340834
  • P1340839
  • P1340841
  • P1340843
  • P1340847
  • P1340849
  • P1340850
  • 20230916_130913
  • 20230916_130920
  • 20230916_130937
  • 20230916_130945
  • 20230916_131032
  • 20230916_131050
  • 20230916_131122
  • 20230916_131159
  • 20230916_131246
  • 20230916_131330
  • 20230916_131412
  • 20230916_131513
  • 20230916_131952
  • 20230917_114140
  • Screenshot 2024-02-01 153346

The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

Add Comment

Comments (0)

Link copied to your clipboard.