St. John's Church


View of St. John's Church and № 5 Liepājas Street around 1900
View of St. John's Church and № 5 Liepājas Street around 1900
View of St. John's Church and № 5 Liepājas Street in 2016
View of St. John's Church and № 5 Liepājas Street in 2016

In ancient times, there was a Couronian Castle on the present Church Hill, which is mentioned in The Livonian Rhymed Chronicle, which describes the second conquest of Courland (1260-1262) started by the Deputy Order Master Georg von Eichstätt. The chronicler writes that after the burning of Dzintare Castle (Amber Castle in Apriķi (Appricke)), the Crusaders came to Aizpute (Asseboten), whose castle defenders, knowing the fate of Dzintare, surrendered without a fight, giving Christians as pledge the sons of the noble. Then: “Now the brothers from Kuldīga (Goldingen) rode to their castle in Kuldīga, and the big troops went to Riga safe and sound”.

When the seat of the Courland Domkapitel (Cathedral Chapter) or the residence stone complex, also called the Bishop's Castle was built on the site of the Curonian Castle, is unknown. Although more than one source mentions the 13th century as the approximate time of the construction of the Domkapitel, it is necessary to agree with the researcher of Latvian castle mounds Ernest Brastiņš (Latvian Castle Mounds, 1923) and historians Andris Cauns and Ieva Ose (Latvian Medieval Stone Churches, 2010) that the Courland Domkapitel together with the diocese Dome on Aizpute Curonian mound was built only in the 14th century. In addition, as far as we know, Bishop’s castle of Aizpute was first mentioned in 1338, when Bishop Johann II of Courland clarified the boundaries of his lands. In turn, the oldest document known to us, in which Aizpute is named the seat of the Cathedral Chapter, is the document of town privileges granted to Aizpute in 1378.

The Cathedral Chapter complex also housed a church used only for the needs of the Chapter. Was it the same Aizpute St. Mary's Church mentioned by Latvian medieval researcher Indriķis Šterns, the historian does not say.

Heavily rebuilt, only the church has survived to this day, which, as far as we know, was restored in 1555, almost rebuilt in 1698/99, rebuilt in 1733. At first it was without a bell tower, then it was added lower than the church itself. The church got its current appearance in 1860.

Today, above the church entrance door, there is a metal forged inscription "ANNO 1254", which has absolutely nothing to do with this church.

The first creator and Head of the Aizpute Museum, painter Jānis Audriņš, has left a written testimony about the origin of this year: “I must reveal a mischief about the inscription ANNO 1254. A very pleasant gentleman, who had studied theology in Dorpat (Tartu, Estonia) for many years, but came out only as an organist, had found somewhere in the rules of the Order that after the construction of the Order Castle a church should have been built within a certain time. According to his estimates, it had to be 1254. I had to make drawings of letters and numbers in the style of the time, after which the local blacksmith did it perfectly in iron. So, the figure of the year here is purely theoretical.” It remains to add that this, moreover, has never been a church of the Order.

Unfortunately, the assumption of A. Caune and I. Ose that the Dome and the St. John the Evangelist Aizpute Parish Church mentioned in the legal document of Aizpute town in 1378 are the same church, namely, the Dome Church of the Bishop of Courland built on Aizpute Curonian castle mound, is also erroneous.

In fact, the St. John Evangelist Aizpute Parish Church was built around the same time as the Dome and was located on the right side of the present Atmodas (Awakening) Street (in the Middle Ages - Gaišā (Light) Street) opposite the beginning of Jāņa (John’s) Street. The oldest known source, which specifies the location of the parish church, is a 1569 record in the so-called Aizpute Book in the archives of the Herder Institute in Marburg - Garā (Long) Street started from St. John's Church and ended at the monastery. Today, instead of the medieval Garā (Long) Street, there are two streets - Jāņa and Kuldīga Streets. In turn, the Church Street - the modern Tebras Street - led to the Dome.

As already in the records of the end of the 16th century in the same Aizpute Book on the right side of Gaišā (Light) Street only the cemetery of St. John's Church is mentioned (in the plot of modern 14 Atmodas (Awakening) Street and in the adjacent part of the town square), it must be concluded that the old St. John's Church was no longer used then. Its walls had survived to the middle of the 18th century, when the Aizpute parish allowed the Piltene Land Council (Landrat) to use the stones of these walls for the foundations of a newly built but never finished chivalry house. At the end of the same century, only the ruins of the foundations of St. John's Church remained.

Exactly when the former Dome Church was renamed St. John's Church, we do not know. Presumably, this happened after Duke Magnus, being the bishop of Courland, founded the Lutheran pastorate of Aizpute in the course of the Reformation, handing over all the property of the diocesan Cathedral Chapter. Then the Dome also became the church of the Aizpute Lutheran congregation. However, long after the latter, in all documents, including the Minutes of the Church Visit (inspections of the church and the parish), it is simply referred to as either the Aizpute Church, the Aizpute Parish Church, or the Aizpute Town and Parish Church.

It seems that the first written information that the patron of the Lutheran church on the site of the former Diocese of Courland is St. John, was published by an anonymous descriptor in the August 4, 1825 issue of the newspaper Rigaische Stadt-Blätter (Riga City Pages), erroneously referring to the founding document of Aizpute. E. H. Busch, a researcher of the history of Russian Evangelical Lutheran churches and schools, also erroneously assumed in the description of Russian Lutheran churches published in St. Petersburg and Leipzig in 1867 that the St. John the Evangelist Aizpute Parish Church mentioned in the founding document of Aizpute (1378) meant Cathedral of the Bishop of Courland.

It should be noted that even in 1930, when the Aizpute Lutheran Church was first celebrated extensively (675), the local pastor Hermann Robert Seiler, giving an overview of the history of the church, correctly mentioned that it is believed (sic!) - the Dome Church was built in the middle of the 13th century and it could have been that more than 675 years ago. At the same time, Seiler has never mentioned the name of St. John in connection with the history of this church.

So much for the history of Aizpute St. John's Lutheran Church itself. But no less interesting is the history of church bells and organs.



The inscription on the outside of the bell of Aizpute Church shows that it was made in 1589 by the famous plaster sculpture of the Lübeck Town Hall and bell maker Matthias Benning (he is also Bennink) from the good-sounding ancestor burned during the Polish war by people, namely by melting it.

Examining what the people of the Polish War fought in Courland around that time, it must be concluded that it was probably 1583, when after the death of the Danish Duke Magnus, the ruler of Piltene District, this area was drawn into war. As Magnus had bequeathed the Piltene area to Gotthard Kettler's son Friedrich, the Poles did not want to allow such an increase in the Duke of Courland's influence, so Georg Radziwill, the administrator of the Duchy of Livonia, Pardaugava, ordered the Piltene area to be occupied. The Polish forces were commanded by Colonel Oborsky, and the defense of Piltene was organized by Johann (the elder) von Behr.

Exactly which church in Piltene District suffered in the fires of the mentioned battle is not known, nor is there any information that the battles took place in Aizpute. However, the name of the person who took care of remelting the fire-damaged bell into a new one is known. Namely, it can be read in the already mentioned bell inscription of Aizpute Church - Hans Stridebeck. It is also known that he has been a resident of Aizpute since at least 1561. According to a copy of that year's real estate transaction, Hans Stribeck (Strybeck) has bought Mazā (The Little) Street for construction in Aizpute. In 1567 Hans Stribeck also bought a house. The 1612 list of Aizpute residents includes Nikolaus Striedbeck- one of the Town Councilors, and in the Minutes of the 1623 visitation of the Aizpute Church Klaus Striedebeck - Aizpute's Town Bailiff (Vogt), can be found. This allows us to conclude that the bell was indeed ordered for Aizpute Church, and it was poured out at the expense of Hans Striedebeck, the citizen of Aizpute. (The surnames were written down by various secretaries or clerks according to their understanding, therefore their spelling often changed over the years).

Although the last Striedebecks brothers Joachim and Reinhold mentioned in the Aizpute documents sold all their real estate in 1638 and apparently moved to another location, Hans Stiedebeck's name on the church bell once given to the town congregation still reminds of Striedebeck's - former members of Aizpute parish.

And now let's try to find out if this was the only bell in Aizpute Church. In the documents of the Aizpute Evangelical Lutheran Church Foundation of the State Historical Archive of Latvia, the oldest information about the bells of the Aizpute Church dates back to 1623 - the Minutes of the visitation indicate what fee the sexton is entitled to for the funeral - digging and tolling the passing-bell. In the funeral of the nobles all the bells are tolled (so there were probably more than two), the Bauern or the serfmen - with one.

"All 3 passing-bells" were tolled even after the thorough reconstruction of the church in 1698-1699. It can be said that the church was built almost anew. But in the winter of 1703, the storm almost tore down the bell tower. Already during the storm, the tower was hastily propped up with logs, but in April 1704 it was thoroughly repaired, and at least in 1709, 1710 it was still ringing all 3 bells.

In 1718, the bell castor Philipp Jakob Günther in Jelgava had made a new bell for the Aizpute Church, for which he received 100 Albert Talers, but the necessary amount was collected only in March 1727. Then the coachman brought the new bell to Aizpute. Since only one or "both" bells were used until the new bell was delivered, it must be assumed that one of the 3 bells known to us was used for the casting of the new one.

Unfortunately, in the meantime, as described in the protocol of the visitation in 1721, the roof of the church had been completely collapsed, shattering and damaging the benches, decorations, pulpit, and loft, except just for the altar. A major crack had also appeared in the masonry wall on the south side of the church, so in 1721 an auxiliary church was built. The bell tower was also repaired with 9 logs.

Construction of a new church began only in 1730, and in October 1733 the "big church" was built. It was consecrated on the first Advent, but the bell tower was completed as early as 1732, when "both bells" were hung on July 16. At the same time, it should be mentioned that the excerpts from the Aizpute town archives published in the newspaper Das Inland on September 9, 1836 state that “on July 16, 1733, both bells in both church towers (?) were happily and successfully brought up and hanged in the name of God”. But nowhere else has an indication been found that the church has ever had two bell towers. The news provider apparently made a mistake not only with the year.

Although after receiving the bell casted in Jelgava, the Aizpute Church should have had three bells again, but only two are mentioned in the church documents. Probably the third one was damaged, and from that one in 1739 a new, larger one with the inscription "Consistorii Piltensis Assesor, Pastor zu Hasenpoth und Jamaicken" was cast in Lübeck on behalf of the pastor of Aizpute, Christopher Ludwig Rosenberger, for which the pastor had to pay 284 guilders and 15 Groschen to Joachim Voigt in Liepaja in January 1740, plus 3 guilders for the freight from Lübeck to Liepaja (January 1740), 18 fourpences for the delivery from the ship "to [Voigt's] home", 2 Talers and 21 Groschen for [his] correspondence with Lübeck.

In 1741, the pastor died, so he did not pay a penny for the bell. Voigt, the Excise Secretary of Liepaja, also died on August 14, 1750, and it was not until October 20, 1752 that the curators of his inheritance received the first payment for this church bell - 90 Guilders and 24 Groschen were paid by von Dorthesen an owner of Korele and other manors. On February 3, 1753, the landlord paid the remaining 200 Guilders, and thus the bell was “handed out and delivered”. Now the church had three bells again.

In July 1802, 3 birkavs, 1 pood and a 15-pound (~ 513 kg) bell were removed from the church tower and sold to Mr. Kupinus, which was transported to Liepaja by carriage from Liepaja to Lübeck. The small (presumably cast in 1739) and large (1589) bells are then mentioned.

In 1855, one bell of Aizpute Church was replaced. This time, the Aizpute parish decided not to remelt the old one, but found a more suitable one for the needs of the church and bought it in exchange, paying 49 Silver Rubles, as well as another 4 rubles for transport and other expenses related to relocating the bell. Judging by this relatively small amount paid for the transportation, the bell was not carried from afar. From which church - unfortunately we can only guess. However, it is possible to find out what has been exchanged for what.

Since there were two bells in the Church of Aizpute in 1867 - the bell well known to us cast in 1589 and the other one not mentioned before, which, according to the inscription on it, was cast in Lübeck in 1739 by the order of Dorothea Keyserling, born von Medem, it becomes clear that the latter was exchanged for the one cast in 1739 in Lübeck with the name of Pastor Rosenberger. Knowing that Dorothea's husband was from the Ķimāle (Kimahle) branch of the Keyserling family tree, it is probable that the bell had previously been in a church in Kuldīga (Goldingen). Probably, until 1855, it was one of the bells of the Kuldīga Church, because in October 1744, von Keyserling's daughter from Ķimāle (Kimahle) was baptized in this church.

Both of these bells were in the belfry of Aizpute Church until October 1917, when one bell was removed, apparently the one that had been replaced in 1855.

In the summer of 1915 about 2,000 bells were brought from Latvia to Russia, mainly Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod, of which only about 500 were recovered in the 1920s, the bell of St. John's Church in Aizpute, which according to age was in the top fifty until the First World War, is now in the top five.



It is known for sure that the organ was in St. John's Church at least in 1623. As mentioned in the report of that year's church and congregation visitation, describing the procedure of the Sunday service ceremony for the non-German (unteutsche) and German congregations in Aizpute - the organist helped the Germans to sing spiritual songs by playing the accompaniment on the organ. Latvian population apparently could not reward the organist neither in money nor in kind.

In 1676 the congregation bought a new organ, made by organ builder Gabriel Benedicius.

On September 13, 1736, in Königsberg, Christopher Ludwig Rosenberger (1700-1741), pastor of Aizpute and Jamaicken, pastor of Piltene Imperial Consistory, and Georg Siegmund Caspari (1693-1741), builder of the court organ of [Prussia], signed an agreement on the building of a new organ. The master undertook to make and deliver the organ at the Mēmele (Memel) Fair in 1737, the pastor - to pay in four installments in cash and to deliver the organ to the church, where the master's apprentice would put it up. For this, the apprentice must be given free food, the necessary helpers, free travel expenses for him and his tools.

On August 23, 1737, the organ was in Aizpute together with its builder, and from September 1, payments appear in the church publications for the swell-box pedal player. Already in 1747 the organ had to be repaired. This is done by organ builder Albrecht Jordan. In 1790, the organ was repaired by J. T. Gordan. Repairs continued from time to time, and at the same time money was saved for new organ.

On May 13, 1868, the organ builder Herrmann has compiled a preliminary calculation for a new 20-vote (register) organ with two manuals and one pedal for 2,000 Rubles. On June 10, the Head of the Aizpute Church signed an agreement with the Liepāja (Liebau) organ maker P. C. (Karl) O. Herrmann the Senior that the latter undertakes to build that kind of organ for the Aizpute Church, whose voices could later be supplemented with a value up to two thousand Silver Rubles, tuned accordingly and ready for use to be installed in the Aizpute Church. Warranty 10 years. In the event that the builder dies during this time, his duties will be performed by his son and successor Karl Alexander Herrmann Jr. The organ must be ready in 10 months at the latest.

The agreement was signed by the Head of the Church (signature illegible), the pastor of Aizpute Johann Wieckberg (1832-1884), P. C. O. Herrmann, another person whose signature is illegible, the organist and music teacher of Aizpute A. Berndt.

On July 15, 1869, the Rigasche Zeitung announced that on May 18, a new organ built by Liepaja organ builder K. Alexander Herrmann with 16 voices in two manuals and a pedal with the possibility to expand the mechanism to 21 voices would be inaugurated in Aizpute.

As time went on, the organ began to give trouble, and at the beginning of the 20th century, the congregation decided that it was time to acquire new one, this time by concluding a contract with a company whose reputation was far-reaching.

On September 21, 1903, an agreement was signed between the Head of the Aizpute Parish, Eduard von Schröder, and the imperial court organ builder, Wilhelm Sauer, that the latter undertook to build a new organ for 4,200 Rubles by July 1, 1904 at the latest.

And so, this Opus 906 of the organ construction company "W. Sauer", founded in Frankfurt am Main in 1856 and was consecrated on June 27, 1904, delights listeners in Aizpute for the second century.

Today, the church is the property of the autonomous Evangelical Lutheran Church - an architectural monument of national significance.

The church has a tombstone of Henricus Basedow, Bishop of Courland (1501-1523), which once covered his burial place under the altar.

Basedow is descended from the Patrician family of Lübeck, was a Councilor (Domherr) of the Lübeck Church, a Master of Arts, a nobleman (magister in artibus, nobilis), while in Rome, he joined the German Order as a priest brother. In 1520, the Roman emperor Charles V granted Basedow feudal law to the diocese of Courland. The last information about him is dated February 23, 1523.

The tombstone of Henricus Basedow, who died in 1523, is a 1.82 × 2.80 m limestone slab built into the east wall of the church to the right of the altar. In the corners of the plaque are four evangelical symbols: images of an eagle, an angel, an ox and a lion, with text inscribed between them. In the middle is a bishop's life-size figure in a ritual gown, rich in Gothic ornamentation.

The inscription along the edges of the plate in Latin, restoring the abbreviations, is as follows: “Anno Mccccc .. obiit reverendus in Christo pater dominus henricus basdow Curoniensis episcopus cuius anima requiescat in [pace Amen]” (Died in 15… , the venerable father of Christ and Lord Henricus Basedow, the bishop of Courland, whose soul rests in peace).

At the feet of the bishop are three shields of the coat of arms: in the middle is the coat of arms of the diocese of Courland with the image of the Lamb of God, and on the sides are the bishop's parents - coats of arms of Dietrich Basedow (1477 - 1501) Councilor and Mayor of Lübeck Council and his first wife Hedwig, born Lüneburg. The lack of a year of death indicates that the bishop ordered the tombstone before his death.

In the part of the altar on the south wall, in a specially built niche, on a granite pedestal made according to a sketch of the painter Jānis Audriņš, there is an urn of remembrance for the sons of Aizpute parish who fell in the battles for the liberation of Latvia and the world war made in the workshop of Riga granite and marble manufacturer V. Jaundālders, in 1938 by the sculptor Kārlis Zemdega. A silver plate attached to the pedestal is made by metal artist Stefan Bercs with the inscription “You sacrificed your life for the freedom of the homeland”.

The memorial urn, where the old riflemen stood guard, was inaugurated on November 6, 1938 by the Commander of the Kurzeme Division, General Oskars Dankers, and consecrated by the army pastor Pēteris Apkalns, with the participation of the local Latvian pastor Didriķis Eizengrauds and the German pastor Walter von Hirschheydt.

The author of the altarpiece "The Crucified" is J. F. Walter (1864). In addition, the church also has a painting by Johann Leberecht Eggink "Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane” (1833).

Today's altarpiece "Ascension of Christ" was created for the community in 2008 by the artist Gunta Ruicēna born Freipiča (* 1946), who lives in Aizpute.


Early 20th century view of Aizpute Church Hill with St. John's Church and the building at № 5 Liepājas Street, as well as the construction of the initial section of the street.
Early 20th century view of Aizpute Church Hill
with St. John's Church and the building at № 5 Liepājas Street,
as well as the construction of the initial section of the street.
Dzirnavu (Mill) Pond in the foreground.
View of Aizpute Church Hill in 2014
View of Aizpute Church Hill in 2014
Early 20th century view of St. John's Church. In the foreground Liepāja road with a wooden bridge and the construction of the current № 5 Liepājas Street. To the right is the synagogue in the distance, behind it the Jewish House of Prayer.
Early 20th century view of St. John's Church.
In the foreground Liepāja road with a wooden bridge and
the construction of the current № 5 Liepājas Street.
To the right is the synagogue in the distance,
behind it the Jewish House of Prayer.
View of St. John's Church in 2015
View of St. John's Church in 2015





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Skolas iela 1, Aizpute, Aizputes novads, LV-3456
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