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Church of the Holy Ghost, Tallinn

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The Nativity is found on one of the balconies of Tallinn's Holy Ghost Church……and so is Tallin's oldest clock.

 
Set as it is in the heart of Tallinn's Old Town, The Holy Ghost Church is surrounded by people — but, behind its thick walls, thre's peace. 
I've always been fascinated with clocks; tempus fugit, as Benjamin would say.

Churches? Well, you can always do with a moment of reflection — and there's always the possibility of discovering a Nativity.

So, as I mingled with the throngs that filled Tallinn's Old Town yesterday — a couple of thousand of them, alone, were day visitors from the cruise ship Roterdam — I was on the lookout for photos of Estonia for my current book project.

But here was a clock, so I had to stop. And it wasn't just any clock: it just about took up most of the wall, and two pigeons were having an afternoon siesta on its ledge, unperturbed by the slow motion of its black, serpentine hands.

A gilt sunburst and Roman Numberals decorated its face, and the corners are decorated by carved figures amidst flora, holding a book — the Four Evangelists?

Then I looked up and saw the Baroque, stepped (see photo, below), whitewashed bell tower, so I had to go in.

The Church of the Holy Ghost has to be one of the most beautiful in Tallinn. It dates from 1316, and was built as a chapel to a poorhouse-cum-hospital, The Holy Ghost Hospice.

The church is divided into two aisles by three sets of tall, dark, pews, and, against the side walls decorated on the outside with colorful Biblical scenes. Above, twin balconies are likewise filled with paintings, separated by carved columns of figures playing musical instruments, or putti atop fanciful carvings of leaves, feathers, and fantastical creatures.

The arched windows let in a lot of light, and it causes the varnish of the paintings to shine, making it difficult to distinguish the scenes — let alone photograph them. Too, there's the rather dark rendering of the 14th century images that do not conform to conventional representation. So, it might take you a moment to realize that you've been looking, say, at the Wedding at Cana.

None of this matters, of course. All the scenes — even the ones that you may not be able to name — are wonderful. Then, to the right of The Annunciation, there's no mistaking the Nativity (see photo, top of page).

Jesus is surrounded by a halo-like mount of hay, as Mary holds her hands by his side. Joseph is standing, as is a shepherd, while another shepherd is kneeling.

 
Stepping in front of the camera at the 18th century Kadriog Palace, summer residence of Peter the Great. 
There's a manger stuffed with hay on the left, and you can almost distinguish an animal face or two, and to the right a golden light breaks through clouds — or are they a choir of angels? It's so hard to distinguish.

The church is famous, however, for its main altar, carved by the master Bernt Notke in 1483 that is widely considered one of the most important Medieval treasures of Estonia.

So I make my way towards the altar, but realize that I'll have to come back tomorrow: It's time to take the tram to Kadriorg Park, just east of Tallinn, to visit and shoot Peter the Great's homonymous Palace and the modern marvel of architecture that is the Kumu Art Museum…

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