The church of St James in Riga, Latvia, is the seat of the city’s Roman Catholic archbishopric. It occupies an important position opposite Latvia’s Parliament. The first reference to St.James’s Church was in 1226. The first few centuries of its history were uneventful as it served as a local church. Then, after the Reformation the Lutherans took ownership; however, the Counter Reformation saw the church given to the Jesuits in 1582. When the Swedes occupied Riga in the 17th Century it served as the church of the Swedish garrison. Finally, in 1922 the church was given to the Catholic community. The steeple was the only one in Riga that had a bell, named in this case the Bell of Wretched Sinners. History relates how the bell had a bad habit of ringing by itself when any unfaithful wife passed by. This is no longer a problem as the Soviet occupiers melted down the bell for weaponry during WWII. The cathedral is dedicated to Saint James the Greater, but is often referred to by the name St Jacob because Latvian, like many other languages, uses the same name for James and Jacob.
Tallinn is the capital of Estonia, one of the three Baltic countries that achieved independence from the former Soviet Union in the early 1990s. Tallinn has many houses of prayer, including a Roman Catholic Church, within its old town walls. The spires of some of these churches dominate the skyline. The old town is a beautiful place just to wander around and walking is the best way to see all the churches.
On the edge of the Toompea district, opposite the National Library, stands Charles’s Church, regarded as the centre of the Estonian Lutheran Church. It gets its name from the previous church occupying the site, a wooden structure built in the late 1600’s during the reign of King Charles XI of Sweden. This church was burnt down in 1710 by the Russians. The site then lay vacant for 150 years before the current church was built over a period of 20 years in the late 1800s. The interior seated 1,500 people and allowed Estonians to meet in large numbers at a time when Russian rule was being severe on any evidence of Estonian nationalism. Today, to emphasize this point, the funerals of notable Estonians are held in this church.
Walking along the street called Toompea towards the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral make sure to visit the Occupation Museum, which documents the times in the 20th Century when Estonia was occupied by either the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany. Do not miss the statues of Communist notables in the basement outside the entrance to the washrooms.
St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey aren’t the only sights in London for people interested in churches and cathedrals.
Visitors to the main sights in London should always be aware that there is a historical church close by. These smaller churches aren’t as famous as St Paul’s Cathedral or Westminster Abbey, but you won’t have to pay to go inside and you could well be the only person there. However, these churches will give an insight into London’s unique history and bring you closer to local legends and characters. Take a moment here to gather your thoughts and to reflect upon what you have seen, before dashing off to the next sight.
The 590-foot Swiss Re building is an eye-catching structure even in a city like London. “The Gherkin”, as it’s sometimes called, sits on the site of the Baltic Exchange, which was badly damaged by an IRA bomb in 1992 and eventually demolished in 1998. The nearby church of St Ethelburga, which survived both the Great Fire and the Blitz of WWII, was destroyed in 1993 by a bomb. Today, the new church has become a centre for peace and reconciliation, which is open to visitors on Fridays. In 1607 Henry Hudson, of Hudson River fame, and the crew of the Hopewell took their final communion here before setting off to find the North-West passage to India.
In an island in the middle of The Strand near The Royal Courts of Justice and Twinings Tea Shop sits the Church of St Clement Danes. Destroyed during the Blitz, the church was given to the RAF in the 1950s and commemorates the 120,000 Air Force personnel who died during the conflict. Though not the St Clement’s church mentioned in the nursery rhyme, the church bells play “Oranges and Lemons” at various times of the day.
A further 100 yards towards the City is found the Temple Church, built by the Knights Templar. The Church is in two parts: the Round and the Chancel. The Round Church was consecrated in 1185 by the patriarch of Jerusalem. Its recent publicity in relation to the Da Vinci Code has meant more visitors to this church, but it’s still an incredible oasis of calm not fifty yards from the busy streets. A column outside the church marks the point where the Great Fire of London was finally extinguished. Atop the column is a small statue of two knights riding a horse, showing that the Templars couldn’t always afford to own a horse and had to share. Nearby is the Inner Temple Hall, where Mahatma Gandhi studied in the late 1880s.
Visitors to the Victoria and Alberta Museum or Natural History Museum in South Kensington should make sure to visit The Brompton Oratory, which is also close to Harrods. The Oratory was built in 1884 and thus became the first Catholic Church to be built in England after the Reformation. The style is Italianate Baroque and is an exact imitation of the Gesu church in Rome. Some beautiful, exported genuine Italian fittings predate the building. A colourful ceiling curves up a dome that’s 50 metres in diameter.
Dixe Wills set off on a pilgrimage round Britain in search of diminutive places of worship. Here he picks 10 of the most unusual, from a chapel built by prisoners of war in the Orkneys to a plywood labour of love in a Norfolk garden
The prettiest church in Ohrid can be found by the lake and dates from the 13th Century. The church of Sveti Jovan at Kaneo sits on a promontory above Lake Ohrid, from where you can see most of the lake and a lot of the lakeshore. In one direction there are boats, restaurants, and the waterfront of the town of Ohrid, and in the other trees overhang the clear azure waters.
It’s a peaceful, contemplative place. As I sat under a tree and stared into the waters to a depth of about six metres, a calmness descended on my mind as the sunlight reflected off the water and patterns played on the stones, rocks, and fish at the bottom. I could just imagine a monk sitting here and finding much spiritual fulfilment from the view I had, because I know that nothing much has changed in this place for hundreds of years, except for the fish. There is a clearness and a cleanness to the light that reminds me of the Greek light found in their Mediterranean islands.