sunnuntai 20. heinäkuuta 2014

The Cistercian Monastery of Padise in Estonia

It was a pleasant chance to visit the Cistercian Monastery of Padise in Estonia this summer. Actually it was more of a visit to the ruins of the monastery, for during the Livonian war (1558-1583) the monastery was badly destroyed. It was quite easy to reach the monastery, which is located in the Harju County alongside the historical road of Tallinn-Haapsalu. The monastery stands on an island between two branches of the Kloostri river. From Tallinn it is less than 50 kilometres to drive down there via very sound paved road.

The monastery has several other buildings belonging to a manor house on the perimeter. One of the houses was a little shop where I could purchase the book of this review. The book is written in Estonian language, but luckily it has an English language summary. This enabled me to read the book since I cant read or speak Estonian. The book studies the history and buildings of the monastery as well as their present day condition. I choose to lay the focus on the history of the monastery in this review.

A distant beginning

There are twelve medieval monasteries in Estonia and Padise is one of the best known alongside the Pirita monastery near Tallinn. The monastery has been build in several stages over a period of a few centuries. The erection of the stone buildings and walls started in the first decades of the 14th century. The story of Padise monastery begins, however, at the banks of Düna or Daugava river in Livonia, modern day Riga in Latvia.

The monastery of Dünamünde, page 19

Dünamünde monastery was itself build at the beginning of the 13th century in the mouth of the Düna river. It belonged to the Livonan Order of Knighthood. The Order was anxious to spread its influence further north. Thus it is not surprising that the earliest mention of Padise can be found in the land owning documents dated 1257 when Dünamünde had its first land possessions in North-West Estonia. A chapel was build in Padise in 1281.

A very crucial year for the future of Padise was 1306 when Dünamünde monastery was sold to the Teutonic Order. After the trade monks of Dünamünde gradually started to move to Padise.  On the 2nd of June, 1317 the King Erik VII of Denmark gave permission to start the building the monastery. From the very beginning the Teutonic Order and the King of Denmark were active supporters of the Padise monastery. Ecclesiastically the new monastery was under the Bishop of Reval, modern day Tallinn.

Map of Livonia

Times of might and trouble

The Padise monastery became wealthy and gathered extensive land possessions in Padise and Raatiku in the central Harju County. Monks even got fishery rights in 1335 to West Nyland parish on Vanda river in Finland. Privileges raised unrest and trouble with local residents, so monastery sold fishery rights in 1488 to the Bishop Magnus II Tavast of Åbo, modern day Turku.  The monastery went through a profound ownership change as in 1346 the King of Denmark sold the entire Duchy of Estland to the Teutonic Order, which, in turn resold Padise monastery to its Livonian branch.

Plan of the monastery, page 13

Page 130
Monastery gained political and theological power: in 1453 the Padise Abbot settled a controversy between Prussian Union and the Teutonic Order and the Abbot was a member of delegates in Basel Synod. Political struggle between the Order and Bishops in the late 15th century led Padise monastery into a economical trouble. It had to sell its lands and even ask the city of Reval to postpone payments of rent for monastery's Vene street properties. The Reformation arrived at Livonia 1524, but it had no effects on the Padise monastery. However, the ongoing economical depression got worse and in 1537 monastery had no other choice than sell its properties at No 22 Vene street in Reval.

Livonian war and the monastery

As the Orders of Knighthood in Livonia became weaker during the 16th century its neighbours saw an opportunity to spread their control over Livonia. This rivalry led to a long lasting series of battles which are called as the Livonian war 1558-1583. As the war broke out the monastery was first secularised and then turned into a military fortress. That was the end of monastery as a religious place. From now on it was a site of fierce sieges, cannon fire, battles, treachery, torment and starvation. 

In Padise there were six sieges or battles. First took place in August 1558 when Russians sieged the monastery, got guidance help from the local boy named Hans Bare but in the end could not capture the monastery due to lack of siege cannons. Padise's walls still intact the Russians could just leave the scene. Although they promised to return with cannons. This they did in September 1560. The commander of fortress Padise was young and energetic Caspar von Oldenbockum. He had already distinguished himself in the first battle of Padise. Anyway, this time Russians had proper siege cannons with them and situation grew critical for the defenders as cannon fire made part of the walls to collapse. von Oldenbockum led a fierce counter attack which brought damaged section of the wall back to defenders.  In the end defenders had to resort to a bluff in order to survive: they masked a false surrender which brought majority of Russians in front of the main gate. This led to a slaughter of Russian forces by the salvoes of defenders. Again Russians had no other option but to leave Padise.

The main gate. Foto © Historix

By the year 1562 Padise had had new masters: the Polish-Lithuanians garrisoned the fortress. It was time for Swedish forces to siege the fortress. They couldn't brake the walls even they had cannons. Only starvation after belonged siege brought the fortress to surrender. Fourth siege by the Russians in October 1570 had very dismal results. Main Russian forces were besieging  Reval at the same time and from these troops a small detachment was sent to capture Padise. Russians left Padise in March 1571 with empty hands.

The following attempt by the Russians to capture Padise fortress achieved a major success. It is probable that the very presence of Ivan the Terrible, Russian Tsar, had a morale boosting effect on his troops. Ivan personally led the assault on Padise, which however was extremely poorly defended by only 50 Swedish warriors. Russians took over the fortress, but Maljuta Skuratov - a close aide to Ivan - was killed in the battle. Angry Ivan retaliated by executing surrendered defenders. The method of retaliation was somehow characteristic to Ivan the Terrible's personality: he got defenders killed by frying them on fire.  

The final battle of fortress of Padise took place in September 1581. Sweden had already conquered most of Estonia and now they had focus on Padise. Russians offered a fierce resistance and it was only after a six months long siege and relentless Swedish cannon fire that made Padise to surrender. Russians had eaten all their horses and were starving out of supplies.

The cannon tower. Foto © Historix

The cannon tower Russians had previously build to defend the main entrance was in ruins. The Swedish cannon fire also resulted heavy damage to the monastery complex and parts of the gate tower and defensive walls had collapsed.

The war left monastery destroyed and empty. It was never again used for military purposes or as a monastery.  After the war there were no supervision over the monastery area so buildings began to fall down.

New life after the war

Sweden had become the master of Estonia. Count Thomas Ramm, the Burgermeister of Riga, had given his assistance to Sweden in the Swedish-Polish war.  That's why King Gustavus II Adolphus decided in 1622 to donate Padise to Count Ramm as a reward for the previous help. It was the beginning of the so called Ramm's time in the history of Padise.

The new owner made several major changes to the buildings of the monastery by cutting new doors and windows into the walls still standing. Church wing was divided into two floors and partitioned into separate rooms.

Foto © Historix

The final blow to the monastery came on the 4th of May, 1766 when a bolt of lightning hit the wooden elements of the buildings and set a fire which destroyed the hole complex of monastery buildings. It was the end, monastery never recovered and the new manor house was built by 1770 at its present location.

Modern times

Estonia became an independent state in 1918 and state authorities took over Padise manor on the 1st of May, 1920. The main building of the manor house became a local school. New landowners around the ruins started to use the cellars of the monastery as a storeroom. Large part of the tower collapsed in 1928 and it was only in 1934 when the heritage protection got started. By then Villem Raam, a leading and best known student of medieval architecture and conservationist in Estonia began his research and conservation work in the ruins of the Padise monastery.

The collapsed gate tower. Foto © Historix
The work was interrupted by the Second World War and subsequent Soviet occupation. After the situation got steady the work started again, only to be stopped in 1969.

After the collapse of Soviet Union, Estonia restored its independency and the conservation work could be started all over again in Padise. Today the ruins and walls of the monastery are supported and protected by covering roofs. The site functions as a museum and it is for sure a worth of a visit.

The Kloostri river. Foto © Historix

In the book one can find a plenty of architectural study and data. All this is beautifully backed up by  numerous fine pictures, maps, drawings and illustrations. If you are interested in history and architecture, this book is a precious addition to book collection. 


Tamm, Jaan (2010) Padise klooster Ehitus- ja uurimislugu; Padise Monastery. History of Building and Study. Tallinn: TEA Kirjastus