Tallinn Team



Research personnel:

Dr. ANU MÄNDPI, senior researcher at Institute of History of Tallinn University (TLU);

Dr. TIINA KALA, senior researcher at Tallinn City Archives and at Institute of History of TLU;

MERIKE KURISOO, doctoral student in art history at TLU.


Institution: Institute of History, Tallinn University

The Institute of History at Tallinn, established in 1947, was a research institute working under the auspices of the Estonian Academy of Sciences, but since 2005 it has been integrated within the University of Tallinn. It has over forty historians, archaeologists, art historians, ethnologists, and conservators. The younger generation of scholars have often trained and graduated from abroad, and are active participants in international networks. Its Centre for Medieval Studies, founded in 2005, is the leading centre for medieval studies in the Baltic States, with its existing research links mainly focused on Scandinavia and Germany.


Introduction to Livonia:

The Tallinn team will examine in depth one of the main cohesive forces in the historical territory of Livonia over a 500-year period, and how the sense of regional Livonian identity was created, refashioned or lost over time, through the lens of ritual performance, the creation of saints’ cults, and their cultural memory. Medieval Livonia corresponds to Estonia and Latvia today but was formerly a crucial frontier of Catholic Europe against heathendom and also Orthodox Russia. The territory was conquered and Christianised by the Germans and Danes during the ‘northern crusades’ of the early 13th century, our starting point. The history of medieval Livonia traditionally ends with the outbreak of the Russian-Livonian War in 1558. Subsequently, the territory was divided between Sweden, Poland, and Denmark. By the early 17th century, almost the entire region fell under Swedish, and by 1710, under Russian rule.
In the medieval period, political allegiance played little role in regional self-expression and identity. Livonia at that time had different overlords (the Teutonic Order, the Danish crown, and prince-bishops). Far more crucial to Livonian self-realisation was its trading role between ‘East’ and ‘West’, and the economic and administrative function of its larger towns (Riga, Tallinn/Reval and Tartu/Dorpat) as key members of the Hanseatic League, and the cultural ties these economic links brought. Indivisible from these political, economic and administrative structures were the ecclesiastical structures (diocesan and monastic networks, churches and other religious buildings and charitable institutions). A third characteristic of Livonian life was the interplay of languages (Latin as medium for involvement in universal, European cultural life; Middle Low German as the lingua franca for the upper and middling social layers, Finno-Ugric and Baltic languages for the lower-class people).
The German conquest of Livonia was carried out under the patronage of the Virgin Mary and the entire region was dedicated to her. In the missionary chronicle by Henry of Livonia, a parallel was drawn with the Holy Land with Livonia considered a second crusading destination (the Land of the Mother as opposed to the Land of the Son). The Virgin Mary was enormously popular in all layers of society, and although her cult was dramatically reduced after the Reformation, cultural folk-memory retains the affection – even today, one of the poetic synonyms for Estonia is Maarjamaa – the Land of Mary. Other saints venerated in Livonia also played a key role in creating cohesion within different communities (such as towns and parishes, guilds and confraternities, military and monastic orders).


Key objectives and research questions:

An in-depth study of the role of the Virgin Mary in conquest ideology and as the patron saint of Livonia; with references to other frontier crusading areas dedicated to the Virgin.
A study of the role of the ‘Hanseatic saints’ (e.g. St Nicholas) and their promoters in Livonian towns; a comparison with other towns in the Baltic Sea region.
The extent to which the cult in Livonia of Scandinavian saints (Ss Olav, Knud the King, Henry of Finland, and Birgitta of Sweden) was caused by geographical factors and the presence of Scandinavian merchants and artisans in Livonian towns, and the extent to which we can talk of supra-regional phenomena?
A study of the reasons for the powerful veneration of soldier saints (Ss George, Victor, Mauritius, and Reinoldus) in merchant-dominated Hanse towns in general and by the merchants’ guilds and confraternities in particular.
An exploration of why no local saints ever emerged in Livonia (despite the fact that some of the first bishops seem to have been venerated as such). There were ‘national’ (mainly royal) saints in every neighbouring or culturally related country, but none in Livonia.
An analysis of the extent to which particular saints created cohesion for separate social and ethnic groups within Livonia. Can one distinguish, for instance, between the saints for the elites (the ‘Germans’) and for the indigenous people (the ‘non-Germans’)?
How were the saints represented in visual environment (both in sacred and secular space) and what role did donors play in determining the pictorial programme of the artworks? How did the images express the attachment and proximity of saints with their communities?
How and how quickly did the saints’ cults and their visual representation alter after the Reformation and in the subsequent period of ‘Confessionalisation’ in the context of changing political and ideological circumstances? How were the Catholic artworks modified to fit into the Lutheran context?


Methodology and the division of duties:

Methodologically, the project stands on the crossroads of various disciplines, including art history, cultural theory (especially that of visual culture) and political, social and ecclesiastical history. The project requires intensive archival work, the study of diverse texts, images and objects, fieldwork in Estonian and Latvian churches, and research in museum collections. The project will embed approaches from cultural memory, performativity theory and the history of daily life.
Anu Mänd and Tiina Kala will document all references to and depictions of saints in the region. They will map the patron saints on all levels, i.e. those of the dioceses and towns, monastic houses, (parish) churches, chapels, altars, and masses. They will also gather information on relics and local pilgrimage sites. Anu will focus on the saints’ cults within urban corporate bodies, such as the town council, guilds and confraternities, as well as on the visual representation of saints. Tiina will study the ways of veneration of particular saints; the religious, social and economic background of popular devotion; and how and why religiousness expressed through the saints’ cult changed during the Middle Ages.
Merike Kurisoo in her PhD dissertation will address the question of what kinds of Catholic liturgical objects and church furnishings continued to be used in Protestant churches and how they were adapted to the Lutheran context.