Results of archaeological digging performed at St Jacob’s Church in Riga in summer and autumn turned out rather surprising. This is because these results reminded researchers of a forgotten fact – that there had once been a large cemetery near the Jacob’s Cathedral in the Medieval Age. Remains of this cemetery are located basically in front of the Saeima’s front doors, in fact.
There are reasons to believe there are still bones of the dead lying under the pavement of Klostera Street and Jēkaba Street, as reported by Latvijas Avīze.
Archaeologist Artūrs Tomsons, who was in charge of the digging, reminds that there has never been a proper archaeological investigation of the church or its nearby territories. This time archaeological research was prompted by the digging of engineering trenches for engineering communications near the church’s wall, when construction workers found human bones in the ground.
Burials in the church and nearby cemetery were a normal for the Medieval Ages. Dome Church had several such cemeteries. However, the first mention of this church dates back to documents as far back as 1226. This particular church, unlike Dome and St Peter’s churches, which belonged to Germans, has historically belonged to Latvians. Jacob’s Church was considered owned by Latvian fishermen and beer brewers, as well as Latvian craftsmen. This means that the remains buried in the cemetery most likely belong to Latvians.
The cemetery may have existed until 18th century, when Catherine the Great ordered as part of measures on combating the black plague in 1773 ordered burials to be performed outside cities.
During Tomsons’ archaeological digs, researchers found around 300 burials – some of the bones were buried again and some were handed to the University of Latvia History Institute’s Bio-archaeological Laboratory. The estimated territory of this cemetery reaches all the way to the Saeima building, where the poorest members of society were buried. Wealthier people were buried closer to the area where Dome Square stands.
Tomsons estimates that the Saeima building, which was known as the Vidzeme House of Chivalry around the 19th century, was built on top of the cemetery. «What we found during our digging is the last phase of the cemetery, dating back to 17th and 18th century. The layer practically did not grow after that,» says the archaeologist. The burial layer starts right below the pavement layer, some 1.70-1.80 m depth close to the Saeima. The lowest point of the archaeological dig reaches slightly deeper than 3 m. This allowed archaeologists to find 10-11 burial layers, the last of which dates as far back as the 15th century. Deeper digging was not performed. This was not the objective of the archaeological investigation. With that, the layers of the 13th-14th century remain untouched.