Great Guild – not just a relic and historic monument

Great Guild – not just a relic and historic monument National Library of Latvia . Great Guild in 1950s
Una Griškeviča
14-09-2013 A+ A-
Only so little is left until 27 September when the new season of The Latvian National Symphony Orchestra (LNSA) will begin at Great Guild. This building has been a great attraction for tourists, but hardly anybody knows that its origins are found in the 14th century (in 1353, to be precise). There are only few elements left from the former building, but Elīna Hermansone, the client service manager at LNSA, our guide, tells that several individual excursions were held this summer. „Our main message is to show that this building is not just a historical monument and relic, it’s a living thing!” points out Elīna.

From Guild to Concert Hall

Historical sources confirm that the origin of Riga merchant organization, Great Guild, is based on the first Riga brotherhood called St. Spirit’s Guild where statutes are still saved from 1252. Merchants and craftsmen excluding weavers and bathhouse holders were received in the brotherhood. Soon, two groups shaped up at St. Spirit’s Guild, those are called two rooms according to historical sources. Those are Minstere and Zoste rooms, its titles evolved from German cities (there is a thought that the first settlers in Riga came from those two cities). Later, both organizations were divided by economic and social interests. Grea Guild invited German merchants, but Small Guild received German craftsmen. In 1353, united merchants gained their statutes called „Schragen”, so this year is considered the foundation time for Great Guild. So much about history. It’s also worth to add that splendid gate decorated the entrance of Great Guild courtyard crossing Amatu Street through the whole width circa 1755.
Two stone plates were put above the gate apertures with German writings on them.

 The first one invited everyone to walk through the gate while remembering that people’s well being is based on God’s worship, but the second invited to fight self-regard, envy and luxury in order to honour diligence, consistency and moderation.

The gate was taken down in 1863, but the two plates were put near next to Great Guild entrance from the courtyard’s side (these doors are now being used for staff).


The current look of Great Guild evolved circa 1854 to 1859 when the building was renovated with the architects K.Beine and H.Scheel supervising the building. It got the shape of Tudor gothic revival but the Concert Hall was built in 1963 after the fire and renovated in 1965 using the project of the architect Modris Ģelzis. Back then, a new entrance hall was built, and the whole interior was adjusted to the Concert Hall.

 We start our excursion in the basement when the cloakroom is now fixed up. In there, the first ruins of Great Guild are seen that serves as an evidence that a two-nave building stood up circa 12th century.


When asked about the unexplored secrets of Great Guild basements (at least, that is what’s written by the column), Elīna answers with a smile that some archaeological digs could be organized in there, though, nobody has really thought about it. „I remember reading about a restaurant „Klosterpagrabs” that existed in the first Republic of Latvia time where the entrance was surrounded with winding stairs from Minstere hall. There is a version about Great Guild history that a Franciscan monastery was located nearby. It’s possible that this existing column confirms it.” She also read that four halls were in the restaurant, each dedicated to a separate Latvia area and decorated in its national stylistics.


DJ at the musician balcony

In the lobby next to Minstere Hall (in there, a coffee-house is available for visitors during the concerts), beautiful stained-glass windows from 1937 (made by artist Ansis Cīrulis design for a wordwide exhibition in Paris) are seen. „Hardly anybody suspects that those four pieces where important spheres for that time Latvia (building, shipping, trade and crafts) are shown are really a significant historical and cultural monument. A historian recently visited Great Guild who told some facts about stained-glass windows. When speaking about Latvia exposition pictures in Paris, he found out that, back then, there were five (not four) pieces exhibited in Paris.


„There is no information about what happened to the fifth stained-glass piece, besides, those four were put in this building after Paris exhibition where Chamber of Commerce and Industry in the first Republic of the Latvia worked. I think, it is clearly a national element in this building where German culture dominantes over all,” says our guide who adds that German tourists often admire the perfectly maintained interior at Great Guild.

 „Tourists visit this building quite frequently as it is one of the most interesting attractions in Riga, Great Guild is mentioned in practically every Riga tourist guide.”

They came with their travel guides opened and said – we would like to come inside. As I previously said, those were mostly German tourists,” sums up Elīna.

Minstere Hall is mentioned in historical sources since 1330 and is located in the old part of Great Guild. It might be no wonder that a mysterious merchant would suddenly appear in this place surrounded with darkness during daylight..


„Generally, this place has not changed through times. Of course, the lenght was extended, besides, a musician balcony given by two Great Guild members, Hanss Vitte and Hans Kleiss, is now located elsewhere. Formerly it was put in the other side of the hall, thrown out in the 17th century, but the architect who supervised the renovation understood how valuable this balcony is and put it back where it’s now,” tells Elina who also notes that this space has not changed its functions through the last eight centuries. Several celebrations, seminars, concerts are still held at Minstere Hall, some time ago, all Riga residents organized their weddings in there. Indeed, musicians don’t perform at the balcony, but, still, a DJ brings some technique and makes music sets from time to time.

Great Guild can be proud of the fact that Minstere Hall is still the oldest existing place for the social affairs in the Baltic States.

Also lustres from the 17th century are splendid elements of Great Guild together with Hansa emblems and column where an oak-wood St.Mary statue from the 15th century was put, also called Doka (St.Mary is the guardian of Great Guild, so the building can be called St.Mary Guild, as well). Later, the statue was taken to Germany. There is also a niche at Minstere Hall where the statue was once put, and now a copy of it is available at the Museum of the History of Riga and Navigation. The great black doors on the left side of the hall are now being used as closet. Some time ago, while using the donors, you could get to the resataurant „Klosterpagrabs”. Winding stairs still appear from that time.

No wedding party at the newlywed’s house!

It’s worth attending so called Fireplace Hall, formerly known as the Bride’s Chamber built in 1521. The fireplace built in 1633 is not only the historical monument of Renaissance, even more, it’s the absolute pride of the Bride’s Chamber.


When telling about this beautiful room, Elīna says that mostly all Riga weddings were celebrated at Minstere Hall (circa 15th to 16th century). Bride’s Chamber was suitable according to the town council rules to avoid splendid and wasteful life and not let the wedding party to continue at the newlywed’s house.

 „According to the rules, wedding in the church was held at 09.00 am, then all the guests and the newlyweds went to Great Guild. The bride had to dance her first music piece at 20.00 am, then the party had to end.”

Of course, brides hesitated for the first dance, because celebration often went cheerful, there were frequent cases when the newlyweds continued to party after the Bride’s Chamber celebration. This tradition existed until the 16th century, later, Great Guild members held their meetings at the Bride’s Chamber. After Reformation times, weddings were held in the afternoon, but the celebration continued in the evening.

The most beautiful interior decor is the fireplace where the Great Emblem is seen in the very central frieze. Those are two keys crossed above the sailing boat. Also a German title is carved under the relief, German tourists like that quite much. „Don’t speak of what people like, speak of the common good.” When asked if the fireplace is still used, Elīna replies that it’s ready for use.

 „We invited a chimneysweep to check the fireplace. He said: yes, you can use it!”

That’s why we chose to open this year’s season with the fireplace. Why not if that’s an option? I think, the fireplace suits well for the autumn and winter days. As soon as the first one comes and says, let’s make the fireplace, we’ll do that.”


Still without the roof floor

We finish our excursion on the Great Guild roof where a fantastic sight opens to Old Riga (though, it’s not possible to come up as and whenever you like. Some confirmations from the local police authorities and other institutions need to be received). While we admire the view in this sunny day, employees of Great Guild tell that another floor was expected before the economic crisis, up there, musician backstages and bathrooms could be arranged. Even sketches for the floor were prepared, and experts researched the constructions of the Great Guild roof who then confirmed the building work. „At that time, minister for culture decided that a concert hall at AB Pier has to be built, so our idea was left out, unfortunately.”

Nobody really talks about what future might bring. When going back to event organising on the Great Guild roof, we realize that it would be a great place for concerts. How great would it be to stand in the middle of Līvi Square and to hear good music from the top of Great Guild! Hope is what’s left when speaking about a great concert hall, the same Cēsis and Rēzekne already have..






Comments open for registered users only!