Pirita is an iconic neighbourhood of Tallinn, and it’s convent — in all of its many forms — has often been used as a cultural icon. It is also, therefore, typical to find oneself thinking whether to stop by. I did so on one summer’s day, and I really enjoyed my visit. However, from what was visible there, a look into the place’s history beforehand (or after) won’t go amiss.
So, this is it. The nave and where the altar used to be. The bases of the pillars are also easily visible though all of similar height. The missing roof is also an indication that the place’s end was perhaps not the most peaceful. There’s lots of wonderful masonry about and the adjoining buildings — or rather where these used to stand — form amazing corridors and rooms in their old shaped, giving rather good an idea of what this place used to be like.
But where did it come from? An interesting character in this land’s history, St Birgitta, had an idea to found a new order (Bridgettines) which would also incorporate both men and women unlike the traditional monastic orders which kept to one sex only. St Birgitta managed to complete her wish and get the sanctification of the order in Rome, and founded the first and home convent at Vadstena in 1384. Two monks from there arrived in Reval (Tallinn) in 1407, but the plan to found the monastery dated a few years back and into the merchant houses of the city.
The story of the place does not extend into the greatest of futures — it was already in 1525 that Estonian took on the Reformation, and Catholic monastic orders were not a favoured party after that time. The convent survived, however, and continued until its final destruction during the Livonian War in 1577.
The convent has also survived in other guises for it was in the 1990’s that a few of the Bridgettine monks applied for permission to re-open the place. This was granted, and in the modern day a newer version of the convent is located just by the ruins of the old one. These new monks are nuns are no doubt happy in their chosen profession, but they can also, I hope, appreciate that their convent is the original (and eponymous) reason for the existence of the entire neighbourhood now known as Pirita.
There are other stories, of course, to be told about the monastery. The famous cultural icon ‘Viimne reliikvia’ (‘The Last Relic’) takes place at least partially here (though a reconstructed version), and that is a definite cultural hegemon in the Estonian cinematographic landscape. Another fun legend we can choose to believe (or not to…) is a story about the 20th century involving the Soviet Baltic Fleet and it’s commander, Vladimir Tributs. Namely, Admiral Tributs had set up his command post on the cruiser Kirov as part of the Soviet plans to evacuate Tallinn and move to St Petersburg. Having done so, however, he also gave an order for a three-gun salvo at the convent building’s remains. The three 180mm shells of nearly 100kg explosives each sailed right at the target and through it — through the windows. What a story, eh?