Vitāle, Ilze, “The organ of Liepaja Holy Trinity Cathedral in Latvia”

One of the biggest valuables of  Liepāja Holy Trinity Cathedral is the organ. The organ of Liepāja Holy Trinity Cathedral is one of the most outstanding masterpieces in the world. It is famous for its size, history, visual image and musical quality. The new organ with 36 registers was finished at the same time when the church was built by the Courland Duke’s privileged organ maker Johan Heinrich Joachim. Unfortunately, the church was not satisfied with the organ for the organ maker was old and deaf and because of that the organ was not up to their expectations. In 1773 Heinrich Andreas Contius, one of the most important organ makers at that time was invited to Liepāja, after he had made very a successful the organ in Riga St Jacob’s Church. Contius’s organ was finished in 1779, it had 38 registers, and the people of Liepāja were finally happy with the organ. The construction of the organ went on till 1885 when Barnim Gruneberg from Stettin completed the extension of the organ and as the result now the organ had 131 independent parts and due to that it became the biggest organ in the world which is confirmed by a china plate above the 4th manual of the organ. The organ kept this status till 1912 when a bigger instrument was built in Michael’s Church in Hamburg. However, the status of the biggest manual organ in the world still belongs to the organ of Liepāja Holy Trinity Cathedral.

Huge investments are necessary for the preservation and restoration of Liepaja Holy Trinity Church. The total costs of the project can be estimated in several millions of Euros.

Both Latvian and foreign organ players have said complimentary words about the amazing instrument of Liepaja- the organ of the Holy Trinity Cathedral e.g., Austrian composer, organists and conductor Martin Hasselbeck: “Liepaja is a magnificent place for organists, where the biggest mechanical organ of pipes in the world arouses an interest , making both the city and festival very tempting!”

Liepaja loves organ music; it has got its own circle of audience which has increased due to the International Organ Music Festival, attracting also fans of other music types. The annual organ music festival is a precious tradition for the city, its inhabitants and guests.

Thanks to “Vereinigte Kurlandische Stiftungen” in autumn 2008 a general elimination of wood-eaters was carried out in the whole church area. The long-lasting activity of wood-eaters has done damage to the whole wooden interior and organ that cannot be repaired. This process was terminated successfully. In 2009 the play desk of the organ was renovated and also the Barker’s machine. But in 2010 the air supply system of the organ was improved.

About Liepaja Holy Trinity Church and its renovation

The Holy Trinity Church of Liepāja is one of the most impressive historical buildings in the very heart of Liepāja. It is an outstanding construction art monument of the late baroque age which has not got anything similar like that in the whole Latvia sacral architecture. The church has been the dominant of the city since 1758 and it has served for the people of Liepāja as a place of a busy Lutheran church life. In the church the decision about the serfdom abolition in Courland was first announced in 1817. Today the Holy Trinity Cathedral is Latvia Evangelical Lutheran Church Liepāja Bishop’s Cathedral and Liepāja Holy Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, German Lutheran Church also works here.

The cathedral is included on the list of the national cultural monuments to be protected as the architectural monument of national significance – The Holy Trinity Lutheran Church with its fence (state protection No 6381). In the building there are several art monuments with national significance such as the altar, pulpit, the Duke’s balcony, confession bench, organ, organ galleries, organ prospectus, pews, interior decorative furnishings and portals.

Being aware of the bad technical condition of the unique architectural monument of national significance and the huge amount of finances needed to save the church on 2006 December 5 “Liepaja Holy Trinity Church Renovation Fund” was established. The goal of the fund is to promote the preservation of the heritage value in Latvia, organizing and supporting the renovation and preservation of Liepaja Holy Trinity Cathedral which is a monument of national significance.

In more than 250 years of exploitation Liepaja Holy Trinity Church has experienced several steps of rebuilding, reconstructions and local renovations. However, currently the church is in an unsatisfactory condition which has been confirmed by the technical examination of the building in December 2006, done by S/C “Komunālprojekts”.

Foundations: the wooden foundation constructions of the building in the place between the foundation wall and underground water level have completely or partly rotten. The wall of the foundation at this moment works as a simple, insufficient base in the soil. The total assessment of the church foundation is unsatisfactory.

Walls: During the examination there were noticed cracks of about 0.2-1 cm wide in the outer walls of the building. The outer walls of the sacristy also have cracked a lot. Here the cracks are about 0.2-0.8 cm wide which have appeared due to the uneven sagging of the building. On the outer walls of the church from the inside one can notice dampness on the lower parts of the walls, as a result the plastering and painting has been damaged, and also in some places there is decay on the decorative wooden panels. Inside the church there are 12 columns. On the base part of the columns one can see scaling off the material and separate parts, thus forming horizontal cracks. This damage has appeared because the columns have sagged and rubbed against the floor and other constructions nearby. The total technical assessment of walls can be given as partly satisfactory.

Ceiling: As the walls of the church building and columns continue to sag unevenly, separate parts of the vaults also deviate vertically and the vaults continue getting damaged. If the deformation does not stop, the columns can get into a disastrous condition. The technical condition of the brick vault ceilings in the building can be assessed as unsatisfactory.

Roof construction, roof covering: the protecting covering of the roof wooden construction due to the dampness has disappeared and worn out, so one can consider that it does not fulfil its functions any longer. It is possible to notice the decay of the roof construction above the brick wall; there are also local damages in the places where the roof covering had leaked for a long time previously. The technical condition of the roof can be assessed as unsatisfactory. The roof covering is made of profiled corrugated asbestos sheets. Originally the church was covered with copper tin sheets. The present roof covering has worn out, it has got unconsolidated surface, and in some places it has cracked and it is covered with moss. The technical condition of the roof is unsatisfactory.

Interior decoration: the interior decoration has been damaged in several places due to the deformation of the main constructions caused by the uneven sagging of the foundations (cracks, scaling off the plastering). The paint has worn out partly, it has become old, in some places scaled off, plastering and painting has been damaged by dampness. The technical condition of the interior design is unsatisfactory.

Outer decoration: the plasterings of the outer walls and architectonic parts have been damaged due to dampness and frost, in lots of places there are crumbles. The plastering has worn out significantly; it has cracked and crumbled in lots of places. In some places separate patches have been renovated. The plastering of the façade continues scaling off. Pieces are falling off and endangering the safety around the building. The total technical condition of the outer decoration of the building is also unsatisfactory.

Huge investments are necessary for the preservation and restoration of Liepaja Holy Trinity Church. The total costs of the project can be estimated in several millions of Euros. Calculations have been done for the amount of the necessary finances in order to perform the needed work.

Right now the fund works hard on the project design which plans to carry out the most important and urgent preservation work during 2012-2014 – the roof  renovation, foundation reinforcement and introduction of the solution to the environmental accessibility.  The technical projects of the roof renovation and foundation reinforcement have been made and confirmed. The total cost of the project is EUR 615,938.

According to the concept of the cathedral renovation the next consecutive renovation tasks of the church are – renovation of the tower façade, renovation of the building façade, including windows, replacement of the electro installations and other renovation work. You are welcome to support the preservation work of the unique heritage value monument!
Ms Ilze Vitāle
Manager of Liepaja Holy Trinity Church Renovation Fund
Phone: +371 63423431, +371 26585678
E-mail :

“Extended Use of Religious Heritage” Venice 2012


A Great Meeting of Minds

Online conference report on the FRH event “Extended Use of Religious Heritage Buildings”

14-17 November, 2012, The Don Orione Conference Centre, Venice, Italy

The Europe-wide concern was clear to see at the FRH Conference titled “Extended use for religious heritage”, where 86 experts from 24 countries gathered in Venice to discuss the future for religious heritage in Europe. Pioneering the international discussion on ‘Extended use’, meaning finding community and cultural functions and uses that can co-exist with, or add significance to religious activities, the discussions covered topics including authenticity of the heritage, interpretation, material impacts and the flexibility of different religions.

‘Extended use’ can increase resources and support vital to keeping historic places of worship open. An increasing number of European religious heritage buildings are at risk. Many are in a state of disrepair and as a result are being closed, sold, torn down, or changed beyond recognition. Congregations in Europe are shrinking and others are challenged with managing mass-tourism to their buildings. These are threats to the high quality architectural and artistic heritage they hold, and the cultural heritage they represent.

Often small groups of local people are faced with responsibility for the care and management of some of the most important heritage which lies at the heart of our European identity. Having defined the European landscape and cityscape for centuries, these buildings contribute to our way of thinking and belief systems, and our understanding of aesthetics, art and architecture.

Oddbjørn Sørmoen, Chair of the Conference Committee and Director of KA Association for Employers in the Church of Norway and Church-related NGOs, said:

“We took a leap forward, opening the minds of practitioners of the possibilities of extending the use of religious heritage, but also in terms of European co-operation to progress in this field. FRH provides the only communication platform in Europe, for a field of heritage with experts thirsting for knowledge exchange.”

Olivier de Rohan, President of FRH and of the Sauvegarde de l’Art Français said:

“FRH is a young organisation with much energy and enthusiasm. I saw the delegates leave the event with a sense of excitement and determination to keep the discussions going in their home countries, which should be of great value to all of us.”

The speakers included Don Gianmatteo Caputo, Director of the Pastoral Tourism and Cultural Heritage for the Patriarchate of Venice and Director of Museo Diocesano d’Arte Sacra, Thomas Coomans, Professor at the University of Leuven, Department of Architecture and the Raymond Lemaire International Centre for Conservation in Belgium, and Lady Frances Clarke, Co-founder and President of Venice in Peril.

The conference was generously supported by the Headley Trust, sponsoring the attendance of delegates who would otherwise not be able to attend.


Extended Use of Religious Heritage Buildings Project

This project aims to promote the extended use of religious buildings as a respectful,
sustainable and adapted solution to the present issue of the under-use of, and lack of
support for, historic churches. It will collect case studies of examples where extended
use of religious buildings, by which we mean an added use, not replacing the sacred but
existing in symbiosis. Disseminating invaluable experience, research, and good-practice,
it will fill an important gap in the intercultural dialogue on cultural heritage in Europe.
The study is a pilot, which will serve to inform larger scale research in the future.

Religious buildings in Europe are under threat of redundancy due to financial challenges and under-use.

Losing these buildings will not only mean an irreversible large-scale loss to the community of a particularly meaningful heritage and resource, but will also cause a mental trauma for large parts of the population.

There are more and more publications about wholesale and often unsympathetic reuse of redundant churches, but designers too rarely consider more subtle and complex shared use as an alternative, even though interesting realisations and promising projects already exist in many European countries. The concept of ‘shared use’ covers a variety of creative, public solutions in combination with on-going worship. Shared use can be widely interpreted and can include amongst other things, mixed use of the same space, or the partition of space for different users. Such solutions increase use of the buildings and bring added financial support towards maintenance.

The ultimate goal of this project is to offer long-term solutions to one of the most
valuable parts of Europe’s heritage as well as promote Europe’s religious heritage
buildings as a common cultural area for a pluralist society.

Benington, UK extended use

Benington All Saints regeneration project, let by the Churches Conservation Trust in the UK.