St. Peter's church

John’s Courtyard

By the end of 11th century the German merchants had landed on the shores of the Baltic Sea. They were followed by Christian missionaries and crusaders. The Germans called this territory the land of Livs - Livonia. In 1180 a monk Meinhard settled in Ikshkile (30 kilometers upstream of Daugava), and built there the first stone church in Latvia. After his death, the position of Bishop of  Livonia was given to Abbot Berthold. The troops of the crusaders led by Berthold attacked the Livs lands killing local residents, destroying crops and burning villages. Not surprisingly the Livs repelled them fiercely. Abbot Berthold was pierced by a spear of Livs warrior Imanta at a Battle near Riga in 1198.

The Vatican then sent a third priest to Riga Bishop Albert –who was a very clever man. After arriving in the Lands of the Livs in 1200, Albert invented a cunning plan: he summoned the chiefs of local tribes to a feast, and got them drunk and eventually captured them. In exchange for their release, Albert demanded their sons as hostages who were quickly dispatched to Germany.

Albert’s plan was to exchange the sons of chiefs for the right to own a piece of land closer to the sea, where he moved his residence and founded Riga City.

Another legend says the wily Albert asked the leader of the Livs to give him a piece of land the size of a cow’s skin where he put his altar. And when the chief agreed, Albert went to a furrier and hired him to divide the skin into many layers. Albert laid this skin on the ground and got the place for his new castle that’s the place where you’re now standing. The year 1201, when Albert laid the first stone in the base of his residence, is considered the year of Riga founding.

Please pay attention to the remnants of the fortress wall. The whole of Riga was once surrounded by the wall. A small metal gate in the wall of the John’s Courtyard leads to the Convent Court, where the castle of the Order of the Sword Brothers once stood. Despite fighting under than banner of religion, the crusading soldiers often fought in self interest. Albert soon realized that such soldiers could not protect Livonia, and in 1202 he founded the Order of the Sword Brothers. Order of the Sword Brothers ceased to exist when the Baltic tribes destroyed almost all of them during the Battle near Saule – “the Sun city” in 1236.
The former Sword Brothers Castle was passed to the Convent of the Holy Spirit who turned it into a shelter.

You can see the cross-shaped hole with a lattice in the lateral wall of the St. John’s church located outside the John’s Courtyard towards the Peter’s Church. According to a legend two monks from the nearby Dominican monastery wanted to be canonized so much that they asked to be embedded in a wall during the building of the church in the 15th century. The monks wish was granted, and while they were still alive the townspeople fed them through this hole that was specially left for this purpose. The monks died, but they have never been canonized. The bones of the two monks are still lying in the alcove of the building as a reminder to what the vanity brings...

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