Epitaphs of The Cathedral of Saint Mary – Tallinn, Estonia - Atlas Obscura
Unusual adventures and hidden discoveries. Explore our 2018 trips now »

Tallinn, Estonia

Epitaphs of The Cathedral of Saint Mary

The oldest church in the Estonian capital is home to over 100 fantastical cemetery coats-of-arms. 

The Cathedral of Saint Mary in the Estonian capitol of Tallinn is the oldest church in the city, dating back to at least the 13th century, but the wonder of its remarkable age is outshone by the collection of elaborate funerary coats-of-arms adorning the walls. 

While the church building itself only dates back to the 17th century, the church on the site was founded centuries earlier, and the tradition of burying important figures on the grounds was practiced nearly the whole time. From nobles to church figures, the grounds were the final resting place of a number of high-ranking society members of the time. To honor their burial, intricate wooden coats-of-arms known as “epitaphs” would be hung inside the church almost like a remote headstone.

However by the 18th century church burials were outlawed and the practice of creating the lovely grave badges was discontinued until around the 1800s when it came roaring back with a vengeance. A number of epitaphs were carved to honor knights and nobles.

While the tradition is no longer in active practice today, the legacy of the ornate memorials lives on at The Cathedral of Saint Mary which still houses 109 of the epitaphs on its walls. Most of the epitaphs date back to the 17th and 18th century and are made as tall as 12 feet. While they have been restored and preserved over the years, some of the paint is fading and the edges are chipping, however the epitaphs don’t seem to have lost any of their extraordinary regal flair.