St. Peter’s Church (Biserica Sf. Petru)

St. Peter’s Church is situated in the historical center of the Latvian capital city, Riga. The locality of the monument is enough to indicate that the church is a part of the history of the state, thus pointing to its significancy. But more so, St. Peter’s Church is an ancient and valuable construction not solely of Latvia, but of the Baltic region. Representative for the medieval architectural design, the church has been recognized for its value and included in the UNESCO World Heritage Program in 1997.

The first written document which attests the existance of the church dates from the beginning of the 13th century (1209). At first, the structure was quite different from what it is presented before us at present. The church had a small hall and 3 corridors which were more or less identical in terms of height and width. As there is no mentioning of a belfry, the accurate assumption is that this was probably constructed separately.

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The edifice which stands today is actually the result of the restoration work conducted in the 15th century. The altar dates from the same century and it is representative for the Gothic style. In fact, the same architectural design can be encountered in a basilica located in the German town of Rostock – the St. Mary Church.

The Gothic belfry, which exceeded 130 m in height, was finished at the turn of the century, but it did not manage to survive too long. The steeple came tumbling down in 1666 and the church remained without this intrinsic part of the construction for 24 years. It was not until 1690 that a new belfry was constructed under the supervision of Rupert Bindenschuh.

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This new building bore the mark of the Baroque style and consisted of various domes and corridors. But the material from which it was created, wood, was definitely not the best of choices. In 1721, during a lightning storm, the steeple, the largest edifice in the world at that time, was burnt to the ground.  Tsar Peter the Great, who was in Riga at the time of the fire, gave order that the steeple be reconstructed to its former structure.

The work was completed in 1746 and the church survived up until the Second World War. This time of world conflagration brought about the demolishing of the church. The fate of the church was doomed: the belfry and the roof were reduced to ashes while the interior was completely devastated.

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But the basilica was to be restored one step at a time, beginning from 1954. The first part of this project consisted of restoring the roof, this time covering it with tiles. The steeple would not see the light of day until 1967. The new belfry would set itself apart from the previous design it bore, as this time around the material used in its construction was metal. Another differentiation consists in the height of the building, the new steeple measuring 123,25 m, a couple of meters below its precursor.

Modernity had its way of getting involved in the restoration work, in as much that visitors can ascend from one passage to the next via an elevator. This goes up as much as 72 m. The restoration work for the church was finalized in June, 1973. The Clock Tower was restored in one year’s time, from 1975 until 1976.

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After the exterior was redone, architects turned their entire attention to the interior of the church and managed to create a one-of-a-kind design. The ceiling of the basilica consists of overlapped and stellar cupolas and it is supported by massive columns. The altar consists of 5 chapels, arranged in a circle ,- design representative for the Gothic architectural style.

The restoration work was lengthy and strenuous, but the result was worth it, as at present Latvia prides itself with one of the oldest and most significant basilicas situated in the Baltic States. In honor of the persons and organizations which contributed to the restoration of St. Peter’s Basilica, an inscription plate was placed near the church in 1995.

Today, the church is a unique cultural monument, bearing signs both of the past and present architectural design.

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