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History of Padise Monastery

A Latvian Cistercian monastery called Daugavgrīva (Dünamünde in German) located in the mouth of the river Väina owned some land near an ancient Estonian fortress of Padise. Daugavgrīva monastery was destroyed around the end of 13th century.  In 1305, King Erik Menved of Denmark gave permission for the construction of a grand new fortified monastery complex. Monks from Daugavgrīva monastery decided to build this new complex on their land at Padise.  Construction began in 1317 and lasted for more than 200 years.

The location of this new monastery was identified based on the rules governing the Cistercian order. Cistercian monasteries were always built in remote areas; in wooded or swampy sparsely populated land. They also needed suitable arable land, on which the monastery’s income would depend, and to be near running water to operate mills. Another important factor was to be located in proximity of a center of power. 50 kilometers from Reval (today known asTallinn) and near the historic Reval-Haapsalu road was well suited for this.

Unlike Catholic orders (such as Dominicans or Franciscans) the Cistercians sought complete isolation and self-reliance. Laypeople were not allowed in the monastery complex but were built a small chapel or church on the outside. Ruins of one such church with a cemetery for villagers were discovered in Padise in 2009.

By the late Middle Ages Padise monastery owned quite a lot of land; many villages from nearby Vasalemma to Nõva as well as a separate larger piece of land located near Raasiku in East Harju county belonged to the monastery. In the 14th century, the monastery owned lands around present-day Helsinki and Vantaa and the right to fish in the Vantaa River. Although the Cistercian monasteries included mighty buildings and many lands the monks lived an ascetic life with simple clothes and simple diet.

Unfortunately we know very little about the life in Padise monastery as very few written sources have remained. Only fragments of the monastery’s nearly two and a half centuries of activity have survived. The most famous piece comes from chronicles where it is reported that in 1343 during the St. George’s Night Rebellion the people of Harju County killed 28 monks and burned some buildings. It is thought that the monastery was rebuilt as a fortress-like building complex for fear of events such as St. George’s Night Rebellion.

Livonian War and the end of the monastery

The monastery remained in Padise until the beginning of the Livonian War in 1558, when it was occupied by the forces of the German Order. In the Livonian War the monastery served as a fortress, which was occupied several times by various enemy forces. Finally, after a long siege of the monastery Swedish troops were able to seize it from the Russians in 1580. The monastery was badly damaged and remained in ruins for several decades. The former estates of the monastery became the property of the Swedish state.

Era of the Padise manor

A new page in the history of Padise monastery came in 1622, when King Gustav Adlof II of Sweden gifted the former estates of the monastery to the mayor of Riga, Thomas Ramm. The new owner started a partial restoration and intended to transform the monastery into living space. During the reconstruction new door and window openings were carved into the thick limestone walls, stoves and fireplaces were built, and the high church ceiling was divided into two stories. This work lasted few decades. In the heart of the now manor was a pretty garden with a small pond. The 17th century is considered one of the brightest periods in the history of Padise manor.

Even though the Northern War, which broke out at the beginning of the 18th century, did not leave Padise untouched, much more damage was caused by the 1710 plague epidemic. The black death killed as much as three-quarters of the village inhabitants. In the 1760s the manor was hit by several serious fire incidents. First (in 1763) burnt the stables. The next fire struck Padise on May 4, 1766. Due to the strong wind, the fire spread quickly and completely destroyed the newly expanded and renovated manor. The extent of the destruction was so great that its owner Thomas von Ramm junior decided to abandon the manor and build a new mansion a hundred meters away. Padise manor remained in the hands of the von Ramm family until Estonian independence in 1918.

19.-20. Century

Padise manor was expropriated from councilor Reinhold Clas Gustav von Ramm in accordance with the Land Act passed by the Constituent Assembly in 1919. In the early years of a newly independent country of Estonia there was little money and there was a lack of common understanding of what is worth preserving. Traditionally, the Knight of the Order and the landlord were considered to be the main enemies of the Estonian people, which is why the preservation of historical buildings such as Parise monastery was far from self-evident. By the 1930s, perceptions had changed slightly. The first conservation work was carried out in Padise monastery in 1930. Conservation and refurbishment work, which had been interrupted for a long time, resumed in the mid 1955. After some fits and starts Padise monastery is fully reconstructed today.

It is important to highlight wide international interest in the conservation of Padise monastery. Between 2010 and 2012 a team of archaeologists and students from Vantaa City Museum, Tallinn University, University of Helsinki and University of Turku participated in a project for planning further restoration efforts. Last extensive conservation work was done at Padise between 2018 and 2019.