THE DOMINICAN St. CATHERINE`S MONASTERY
One of the best-kept secrets of Tallinn is to be found in the very center of the city. Located near Viru Street, between Müürivahe and Vene Streets, is a medieval Dominican monastery which reveals a fascinating dimension of the city’s history.
The Dominican Order was founded by a Spaniard, Saint Dominic Gusman, in 1216. Up to that moment only bishops were permitted to preach, but their performance was inadequate beause of the time they had to devote to the administrstion of their dioceses. The result was that many Christians heard the Word of God rarely if at all . Dominic envisioned the creation of a body of trained theologians who would scatter throughout Europe and proclaim the gospel in the most remote areas. The nordic countries appear very early on the Dominic anagenda.
To reach Tallinn the friars followed the trade route along the southern coast of the Baltic Sea, and reached Estonia some 750 years ago. The monastery in Tallinn was certainly in existence by1246.Constructed in the gothic style, it exhibits a number of Interesting architectural features,and contains the largest collection of carved stones in Estonia.
The site of the monastery in the Old City was carefully chosen in order to facilitate both the ministry of the friars and their business interests.They traded in fish in order to support themselves,but their reason for existing was preaching the word of God. The seal of the monastery bore the words ‘Order of Preachers”. The people, however, knew it as “Blackfriars Monastery’ because of the black cloak the friars wore in public over their white habit. Accoding to medieval documents the monastery was dedicated to Saint Catherine. A common symbol of the Dominican Order is a black and white dog holding in his mouth a burning torch. It derives from a pun on the Latin name of the friars, “Dominicanes”, which means ‘the followers of Dominic”. But the name could be split into two words “Domini canes” which means “the hounds of the Lord”. The torch represents the flame of truth. The monastery was celebrated for its scholarship Its best known prior was an Estonian from Tallinn named Mauritius. He studied theology in Cologne with one of the most eminent medieval scholars, Saint Albertus Magnus, and may have been a fellow-student of St Thomas Aquinas? Mauritius completed his studies at the University of Paris, which was then the best in Europe. On his return to his native land Mauritius kept in touch with colleagues in Germany. His intellectual stature is indicative of the quality of the monastery’s leadership. The offerings made on the occasion of such family festivals made a significant contribution to the monastery’s finances. The various guilds gave gifts when their feast days were celebrated. The Merchant Guild, for example, each year in December gave the friars a tun of meat, a tun of codfish, and a tun of peas. Rich burgers left legacies to the monastery for the privilege of having a family tomb in the church, But these did not suffice to sustain all those whom the monastery housed. The friars, in consequence, becaipe farmers and fish-mongers. In addition they ran a brewery, which produced four different kinds of beer. In northern Europe beer occupied the place enjoyed by wine in the south, and was a staple element of both the monastic and secular diet. The monastery also drew profit from the veneration of relics. Many documents mention twelve silver reliquaries containing the heads of saints. Some reposed on the high altar whereas others were enshrined on side altars. Each ‘head was reputed to cure a different set of diseases.
In 1517 the Reformation started in German and very quickly spread into the Baltic states. The loyalty of the friars to Rome made them immediate victims. In 1523 a Lutheran mob burnt down the Franciscan monastery in Kuramaa. The Dominican monastery in Tallinn was destroyed on ,1524.
In 1954 the former garden, cloister and refectory of the Dominican monastery were restored and opened to visitors. One of the most beautiful and peacefri pleaces in Talliun is the cloister garden whict is-bordered on one side by the church of Saints Peter and Paul and on the other by the original church of Saint Catherin. The .cloisxer and refectory contain a permanent exhibition of carved stone slabs.
Sea and limestone ( dolomaite) are two symbols of northern Estonia. Tallinn owes much of its distincitve flavour to the use of the beautiful stone in its walls and towers,and in its secular and religious architecure. Carved stone decorated public buildings and private houses. The designs employed belong to the Gothic renaissance and Baroque periods. Windows were emphasized by slender piers and graceful curves. Armorial sheilds bespoke the pride of their owners.
The monumental masons of Talliun were famous throughout northern Europe. Their carvings were in demand in Finland and other countries. The profession was highly organized. The masters constituted an exclusive guild. Boys served a three-year apprenticeship during which they were bound to a patricular master. If an apprentice ran away no other master could employ him. The next stage was that of journeyman. Its duration varied, but it came to an end when the candidate produced a master-work a small door, or window pillar, or circular wash-basin-which won the approval of 6-8 masters, Arent Passer a master mason from the Netherlands, exercised great influence on the local school of stone carving.