The 124m spire of Oleviste Kirik (St. Olaf’s Church) is another recognisable feature on the Tallinn skyline. The spire used to be taller, 159 metres, and between 1549 and 1625 was the tallest building in the world and provided a beacon to ships far out to sea, an advantage for the maritime port of Tallinn. Legend says that the tower was built by a mysterious stranger who tempted the town elders by telling them he could build the spire higher and faster than anyone else. For this he asked for 10 bags of gold but with the proviso that if the townspeople found out his name before he had completed his work he would forfeit this payment. The elders, thinking that there was no way he could complete the work in the short time the man proposed agreed, thinking their gold was safe. However, the man was true to his word and the work sped along, when it appeared that he was going to complete on time the elders did all they could to find out the man’s name. On the last day just as the elders were thinking the gold was lost they heard the man’s wife singing to her baby that soon her husband "Olev" would return with gifts for them. The elders rushed to the church and just as the man was about to finish the spire they shouted "Olev" to him upon hearing which he lost his footing and fell to his death. However, upon hitting the ground a snake and a toad crawled out of his mouth proving that Olev was, in fact, in league with the devil – if not the devil himself. However the church still bears the name of the devilish spire builder!The truth is much more prosaic, the church is named after St. Olaf (King Olaf II of Norway), protector of seafarers. The spire, however, was not without problems – it has been struck by lightening eight times and the church burnt down three times, which makes one wonder if the mysterious Olev might be having his revenge.During the Soviet occupation the spire was used as a lookout by the KGB but now the views can be enjoyed by all, or at least those able to negotiate the winding stone staircase. It is an exhausting climb especially as the steps are quite deep and the staircase rather narrow, there are guide ropes to hang on to which are a blessing – especially when you meet someone coming the opposite way! I’d advise wearing sensible walking shoes but on the morning we climbed up a girl managed it in 4-inch heels without seemingly breaking a sweat. All kudos to her!The viewing gallery is quite narrow and though enclosed by wire mesh it is quite dizzying looking over the edge or up towards the top of the spire above. The views, however, are fantastic especially over Toompea and out towards the sea. They make the aching legs worth it.
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Carshalton, United Kingdom
August 19, 2007
From journal Tallinn - Warm Heart in Cold Weather
by Owen Lipsett
New York, New York
December 27, 2004
Although the church is officially dedicated to King Olaf II Haraldsson, the Norwegian king, who converted his country to Christianity and is today the patron saint of both Norway and mariners, a local legend has it that it actually owes its name to a more mysterious source. According to this tale, the merchants of the city wanted to build the tallest church in the world but despaired of finding a master builder capable of the task. Suddenly, a stranger appeared, offering to build the church for a more than they cared to pay—but who agreed to waive the fee, provided the citizens had to guess his name.
He worked quickly, keeping to himself, which only increased the anxiety of the city’s leading merchants. Consequently, they sent a spy to find his home, and once there, they found a woman singing to her baby about his father "Olev" (Estonian for Olaf). When they noticed that he was affixing the cross to the steeple crookedly, they called to him by name, causing him to lose his balance in surprise and tumble to the ground. Apparently, a frog and a snake subsequently crawled out of his mouth. One version of the story has it that this indicates he received help from dark powers, while another holds that this indicates that whoever constructed the church was cursed. In any event, it’s memorialized by a carving in the church depicting a skeleton with its head encircled by a snake and a toad on its chest.
There’s no doubt that the church’s tower did serve the dark arts more recently, however, as the KGB operated a surveillance center, while Estonia was under Soviet occupation. Despite this appropriation, the church has since been reconsecrated and plays host to regular Lutheran services. The tower, which offers outstanding views over both Vanalinn and Tallinn as a whole, is open to the public between April and October. Provided you feel like climbing, it’s the main reason to visit the church, whose whitewashed décor reflects the zeal of both Reformers and Communists to efface its most attractive elements and therefore is rather less interesting than the St. Nicholas Church, where decorations spared the attention of their brushes and hammers are displayed.
From journal Reval-ing in Tallinn's Medieval Beauty