Iconic Pirita Convent may get roof

Pirita Convent, venue of the annual Birgitta Festival.
Pirita Convent, venue of the annual Birgitta Festival. Source: Jennifer Boyer/commons.wikimedia

Pirita Convent (Pirita klooster) in Tallinn may be getting a new roof, pending feasibility studies. The convent's principal building has long been open to the elements.

The iconic convent, which appeared in the classic 1969 Estonian movie Viimne reliikvia, has been roofless for centuries, with temporary cover provided there for the annual Brigitta music festival every August.

Deputy Tallinn mayor Kalle Klandorf (Center) supports the idea, saying it would allow better use of the convent.

"The idea of ​​a roof has been played with for many, many years, but for one reason or another, it has not gone beyond being an idea. We could use the space for various events, and, why not, for introducing the convent too," Klandorf told ERR Thursday.

"I recently visited Padise monastery (near Paldiski-ed.), which is very well done, including the monastery roof. There are electronic installations on columns there that recall the history of the monastery. Why not do something like this in Tallinn?"

Experience thus far has demonstrated that a season-round roof is needed also because temporary roofs cost a lot – that for the Brigitta Festival costs the city a reported half a million euros.

"Every year we put on the roof for the Birgitta Festival and take it off after it's been there a few weeks. Then comes the next concert performers, who put up a roof again and take it down again. It's quite a costly type of fun. If memory serves, the line goes: 'The city has spent well over half a million on the roof during the Birgitta Festival," Klandorf continued.

Study needed first

However, possible solutions and cost are not viable until feasibility studies have been done. The study should, above all, provide an answer as to whether the construction of a roof is technically feasible and financially viable, Klandorf said.

"We have to do the research and then we'll get a clearer picture. Of course you have to carry out a competition, then you can get clearer information about what kind of roof you can do there."

One hurdle the city has jumped already is with the National Heritage Board (Muinsuskaitseamet), which about a month ago said that the project could go ahead, with the next stage being negotiations with the city planning agency (Linnaplaneerimise amet), in the light of the heritage board's recommendations.

This would all take time, Klandorf said, but the type of roof envisaged at present would likely be a retractable one.

At the same time, if the convent's nearly 600-year-old walls would support such a roof at all needs to be ascertained, likely using comparative analysis with other such examples worldwide.

The Bridgittine Order, who returned to the location after Estonian independence, also needs to be consulted, as the work will be done on their property. Klandorf said the order was interested in the project, but a cooperation agreement still needs signing.

Pirita's district government, part of the City of Tallinn, recently conducted a survey on the proposed roof, with 69 percent of respondents saying they thought it was a good idea.

Both the local government and the heritage board rejected the idea of a permanent roof last year.

Pirita Convent, also known as St. Bridget's Convent, was built in the early 15th century from limestone and timber, but only enjoyed a few decades unmolested as, first, the effects of the protestant reformation reached Estonia in the early 16th Century, followed by movement from the opposite direction as Russian forces of Ivan IV ("the Terrible) engaged in a war with the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth destroyed the convent in January 1575.

The land was used mostly for agricultural purposes from then until the first period of Estonian independence in the 1930s, when the first restoration work began.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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