Tallinn University opens exhibition about Estonia's oldest public library

St. Olav's Church in Tallinn.
St. Olav's Church in Tallinn. Source: Postimees/Scanpix

On October 21, a selection of books from the oldest public library in Estonia, the library of St. Olav's Church (Oleviste kirik), which was built in the 12th century, will be on exhibit at the Tallinn University Academic Library.

A document from the 17th century mentions the year 1552: "...what remains of the Tallinn library from 1552 and is still located in the St. Olav's church..."

The source document is an inventory list compiled after the merging of the St. Nicholas' Church (Niguliste kirik) library and the St. Olav's library in 1658.

The purpose of the two church libraries was similar: to serve as a scientific library for the intellectuals of the day, in the spirit of Martin Luther's teachings.

The heart of both libraries was religious literature. In addition to medieval scholastics and alchemists, the index shows that medicine, geography, law, history, agriculture, political science, musicology, poetry and modern philosophy were also represented.

The exhibition reveals what local scholars in the province of Estonia, which fell under Swedish rule during the Livonian War, read and what the academic climate was like in North Estonia prior to the establishment of the University of Tartu in 1632.

The earliest public library in Estonia was doomed by modernization. In the 18th century, it became evident that donations from clerics and others could not help the library to keep pace with the fast growth of scholarly study.

Reopened in 1802, the University of Tartu increasingly overshadowed the churches' research potential and in 1831 the library of St. Olav's Church merged with the Estonian General Public Library.

In 1968 the St. Olav's Church Library found a home in the Baltic Department of the Central Library of the Estonian Academy of Sciences, which is now the Tallinn University Academic Library.

The exhibition will be on display through December 18.

St. Olav's Church in Tallinn (Oleviste kirik). Source: Vladislava Snurnikova/ERR


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Editor: Kristina Kersa

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