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St. Paul’s Church of Tartu is the only Estonian sacral building in art nouveau style, as well as one of the most outstanding 20th century sacral buildings in Estonia. The church and its wings form one of the most remarkable ensembles of sacral architecture.

The church was designed by Finnish-American architect Eliel Saarinen. Saarinen is one of the most important and well-recognized Finnish architects and the designer of many important national buildings such as The National Museum of Finland in Helsinki and The Helsinki Central railway station. St. Paul’s Church of Tartu was designed by Saarinen in 1913 and the construction was finished in 1917 and re-consecrated after completion of interior works in 1919.

St. Paul’s Church of Tartu is an exceptional work among Eliel Saarinen’s designs, because the architect widely intertwined different features in an uncommon and original way. St. Paul’s Church of Tartu’s architecture represents turning your back on historicism and mirroring historical sacral architecture.

In St. Paul’s Church of Tartu, Eliel Saarinen has successfully blended National Romantic geometrical elements in the interior with classicism-oriented and monumental elements in the exterior. St. Paul’s Church of Tartu is the first Estonian Art Nouveau church. Therefore the church is a unique architectural monument in the Baltic region. 

Establishing the congregation

St. Paul’s Church of Tartu segregated from the continuously growing St. Mary’s congregation in 1910. The first sermon was held on the 5th of September in 1910 by Arnold Habicht (1878-1964), who later became the first pastor of the congregation.

Habicht came to St. Paul’s Church from Kihelkonna congregation in Saaremaa, but before that he spent a year in St. Mary’s church, so the people of Tartu already knew him. The new congregation brought together former St. Mary’s congregation members who resided in the city. The people who lived outside the city borders stayed in St. Mary’s congregation.

Arnold Habicht’s letter to the congregation to encourage starting construction works of the church 

I, Arnold Habicht, a Baltic German, Cand Theol, born in 1878, my wife Elisabeth, born Blossfeldt in 1893, my sons Hans- Detelt , Alfred, and Bernd-Jürgen.

The letter was immured in the base of the altar statue on the 19th of September, 1922 A.D.
St. Paul’s congregation was established on the 5th of September 1910 by separating the urban residents of St. Mary’s congregation.
There were about 12 thousand members of congregation; now there are about 22 thousand members. The Russian emperor Nicholas II approved St. Paul’s congregation in 1911.

The first pastor of St. Paul’s Church was Arnold Habicht, born in Pärnu on the 17th of May 1878, graduated from Tartu University in February 1907; he was the pastor of St. Paul’s congregation ever since its establishment. The first clerk of the congregation was Emil Paigaline, born in Laiuse on the 23th of June 1884, a former schoolteacher and graduate of the Griwing’s music school in Tartu (graduated in June 1909). The associate pastor is currently Gunnar Knüpffer, born in Tallinn on the 27th of June 1888.

The church vestry includes: chairman Johann Koiwa, bank clerk; vice-chairman Karl Ed. Sööt, writer; treasurer Eduard Loskit, business owner; assistant treasurer Rein Kuuse, merchant; secretary Karl Rüster, public servant; graveyard warden Märt Jänes, business owner; steward Jaan Willem, house owner; and pastor Arnold Habicht.

The church board also includes the following people: church clerk Emil Paigaline, Hans Wiera, Ado Kuuse, Professor Aleksander Rammul, Adam Helberg, Jaan Trents, Margus Tohha, Kristjan Meitra, Reinhold Wõso, August Kullam, David Reinhold, Märt Uus, Hans Arbeiter, Martin Reinik, Peeter Mahl, Jaan Laurson, Jaan Rekand, Martin Kukk, Karl Leberecht, Jakob Arens, Daniel Zirnask and others, altogether 40 people.

The cornerstone of St. Paul’s church was laid on the 15th of May 1915 and consecrated in front of a big crowd by the pastor and in the presence of many other pastors in the second year of World War I. The church was dedicated on Harvest Day in 1917.

The interior of the church was completed on Harvest Day in 1919 in the second year of the Estonian Republic, at the time of the Estonian War of Independence. Therefore St. Paul’s Church of Tartu is a child of war-time concerns, its’ growth and development has been protected and blessed miraculously by God.

The altar statue to be set up on its base, the first altar statue in Estonia, is the work by Professor Amandus Adamson, made in Carrara from February to August 1922. The statue will cost 1 million Estonian marks. The base is made according to the drawings of architect Paul Mielberg. The base is made by modeler Kroonberg, supervisor Jaan Willem and masons Andrei Sorge and Jaan Külm. Kroonberg is also currently making capitals for church pillars according to the drawings of architect Mielberg. Vergers: Jakob Willemson and Peter Mägi.

The authenticity of this act is verified by signatures

/Signatures of Arnold Habicht – pastor and founder of St. Paul’s congregation, and    Emil Paigaline –clerk of St. Paul’s congregation/.

I do not want to finish the letter without honoring the all-powerful God, who has miraculously protected my dear congregation. When the Convent called me back to St. Mary’s Church in Tartu, after I had served as a pastor of Kihelkonna congregation in Saaremaa in 1910, where I was sent after a year in St’ Mary’s Church of Tartu, and I was given a mission: “establish a congregation and build a church for Him”, it seemed too great and demanding task for just one weak person. I came anyway and the Almighty has miraculously helped me. When I held the first service for the newly established congregation on the 5th of September of 1910 in St. Mary’s Church, Juhan Pütsep, a countryman from Tähtvere parish came up to me and gave me a silver ruble “for the new church”. This donation was blessed by God! Love has built St. Paul’s church. We had no outside help. We had faith, we prayed, we worked, we collected money and we built. In the middle of the uproar of the world war, when cannons were roaring near Riga, we completed the church and entered it. Now we have a glorious church, we have a congregation, we have a graveyard. These were tough years, but they were also good years, they were worth living because they had a purpose given by God. Let He be honored! Amen.

Arnold Habicht