Church of St John in Klaipėda

Coordinates: 55.709467 21.136570

Object address: Tiltų Street, Klaipeda, Lithuania

Municipality: Klaipėda

The church was established in the 13th c., with the craftsmen and merchants settling in the neighbourhood of the castle. The church was most likely first built near the castle access circa 1258 and later transferred to the eastern side of the island. It burned down during the fire of 1540 and was soon rebuilt. The new building wasn’t that strong: according to sources of 1630, it was replaced with a new house of worship that was also named after John the Evangelist. Since then all churches for the citizens were named after St John.
A part of the port of Klaipėda. The belfry was a navigational landmark and became an important cartographic point.
The books of St John’s Church provided new facts on the biography of Simon Dach, discovered by the historian Johannes Sembritzki. His family tree, presumably, starts in 1533 with Benedikt Dach, mentioned in the manor donation documents. The church book refers to Simon Dach, the father of the poet and Lithuanian language translator of the volost and the castle, as a “respected and noble” man. His first wife was name Anna, but circa 1622 he married for the second time with a woman, named Dorothea. That’s why the young Simon Dach, born on 29 July 1605, had to leave. His sister Anna married a shoe maker Christoph Riel in 1621. In 1623 Dorothea, the second wife of the translator Simon Dach gave birth to a son Johannes. The father of Simon Dach died circa 1638-1640. Presumably he was buried near the church.
In 2006 in the land plot near Danė River, which was the location of the first building of the St John’s Church from the late 16th c. to 1706, archaeologists have found 172 remains of prominent Klaipėda citizens. Earlier these remains were kept at the auxiliary premises of Klaipėda University. In 2012 they were consecrated by two Lutheran pastors and transferred to the underground of John’s Hill without any big ceremony.
The fire of 1678 left the citizens without a house of worship again. There is no data, where they used to gather for prayer later, but the new church was built only in 1696-1706 in another location on Turgaus Street. It was a 123 feet long and 70 feet wide triple-nave church. The belfry was added later. The latter served for several purposes. It was was equipped with an English clock that showed time for the citizens, also used by firemen as an observation tower (it was 195 feet tall), while the weathercock, shaped like a sailship on the top showed the direction of the wind. However, most importantly, the tower was the most prominent landmark for fishermen and merchants sailing towards the port of Klaipėda. When the belfry was damaged by the storm of 1802, the port authorities immediately funded its reparation. The interior of the church was predominated by a gilded altar and ornamented wood pulpit, brought from the old house of worship. There were also several valuable paintings, including the portrait of the historian and ethnographer Michael Praetorius.
The church was severely damaged during the great fire of 1854, which took its roof, entablatures and ceilings. It had undergone minimal restoration works according to the project made by the architect A. Stüler. The church remained a triple-nave building with a small apsis. Later the side façades were decorated with triangular pediments (five on each side) and small turrets. The belfry was increased to 75 m, thus becoming the major and predominating vertical landmark of the city. It was equipped with three bells and a new clock. The western plane above the door was decorated with a terracotta portrait of the 17th c. poet Simon Dach, who was born in Klaipėda. Just like the façades, the belfry was decorated with eight more small turrets. Thus a Romanesque house of worship acquired typical elements of the neo-Gothic style.
It should be noted that the construction of the impressive house of worship was supported by the King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia himself. After the consecration of the church in 1857, he donated a valuable painting of Christ in the Olive Grove, painted by A. Bouterweck. In turn, by the decision of the Magistrate, the builders have attached a plate on an inside column, featuring an inscription, stating that during difficult times the royal family had found shelter in Klaipėda. Both the painting and the plate hung there up until the beginning of 1945.

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