Winter, Limbaži, Latvia, Early 20th Century

A photo essay

Limbaži, Latvia. My mother’s hometown is a small city in a small country in the northeast corner of Europe, across the Baltic Sea from Finland. Over the centuries, the town’s fortunes have risen and fallen like the tides. When Limbaži achieved city status in 1385, its population was six thousand. By 1622 that number was reduced to twelve. The Svētupe river had become too shallow for ships to navigate so trade went elsewhere. The Black Death returned to Europe in both 1390 and 1400; that no doubt had much to do with the decline in the number of people living in Limbaži. The population rebounded to 549 in 1773. Currently, its population is nearly nine thousand. During the Middle Ages Limbaži was a trade center and part of the Hanseatic League, kind of like an early version of the European Economic Community. During its years as a Hanseatic city, the town’s population may have been as large as twenty thousand. As the river waters and trade fell, so did the town’s population.

During my trip to Latvia during the late years of the Soviet occupation I was able to visit my mom’s hometown and see the house where she grew up. Her younger brother’s family lived there. He and his wife are both gone now, but their son and daughter still live in the house.

Winter in Latvia is a long, cold, and dark season. Not as snowy now as it was in the early Twentieth Century. In winter the sun rises as late as nine a.m. and sets before four. I once asked my mother if the short days depressed her. She replied that with all the snow reflecting light, nights weren’t as dark as they would be without snow. I wish I could travel back in time to Limbaži before the Second World War before the economy was decimated under Soviet rule when Latvia was a peaceful, prosperous country. I’d like to have had a chance to get to know my grandparents and great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I had a whole tribe of them. I’d love to have join the winter fun, sledding, ice skating, building snowmen and having snowball fights. Everything we were all robbed of.

Sine the Eastern Orthodox liturgy is very different from what is heard in Western churches, I have included below a link to a video of the Bulgarian National Choir singing the Lord’s Prayer. I think it’s very beautiful.

This is Parka iela, the street on which my mother’s family home still stands.
This pretty bridge lead to St. John Evangelical Lutheran church, which my mother and her family attended. Where she was confirmed.

Market, 1935. Steeple of St. John Evangelical Lutheran church in the background.
Winter fun, sledding. 1920s.

ras iela, 1920s.

Russian Orthodox church of the Transfiguration of Christ. Out of curiosity my mother and one of her cousins attended a service there. There are no pews in a Russian Orthodox church because they believe sitting in the presence of God is disrespectful. No organ, either, as only the human voice should glorify God. The Russian Orthodox liturgy is amazing.
Joyful celebration on ice at Christmas time more than 100 years ago. The firefighters brass band played. You could hear the rustle of ladies’ long dresses and the swish of skates on the ice of Mazezers Lake.
Jūras iela, 1930s. Part of winter fun in Limbaži. They were still using horse drawn wagons when I visited in the mid-eighties.

All photos courtesy of Limbažu Muzejs (Museum)

The Lord’s Prayer. Russian Orthodox liturgy. By Nikolay Kedrov, Sr.


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9 thoughts on “Winter, Limbaži, Latvia, Early 20th Century”

    1. Very cool that you showed up, Valdis! I’m getting older, but not old enough to forget
      who my mother’s brothers were. You’re named after her. I’m glad you found the post to be interesting. There’s a photo of my mother, Kola, and me in an older post, “I Was a Latvian Refugee.”


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