St. Olav's Church was the tallest church in Medieval Europe. The earliest data on St. Olav's Church come from 1267. Little is known about the building of this Gothic style church and its early years, but there may have been a church on this location as early as the 12th century, alongside the Scandinavian market yard.
The church was named after the Norwegian king Olav II Haraldsson, canonised as a saint. St. Olav was considered to be the protector of seafarers.
Around 1500, the building reached a height of 159 meters (now 123,7m), and became the world's tallest building
of the time. The motivation for building such an immensely tall steeple must have been to use it as a maritime signpost, which made the trading city of Tallinn visible from far out at sea. There was also a risk, however: the steeple has been hit by lightning at least eight times, and the whole church has burned down three times. The fire could be seen from Finland, all the way across the Gulf.
An additional intriguing detail about St. Olav's comes from the Chronicles of Russow. In 1547, a group of acrobats visited Tallinn and tied a rope from the top of St. Olav's steeple to the city wall. They performed dizzying tightrope tricks, to the delight and dismay of the city folk.
Legend says that once upon a time the nobles of Tallinn decided to build the tallest church in the world, in hopes of luring more merchants to the city. But where to find a master builder capable of carrying out such a task? Suddenly, a large, quiet stranger appeared out of nowhere and promised to build the church, but the payment he asked was more than the city could pay. The man was willing to forego payment, on just one condition - the city people had to guess his name.
The stranger worked fast and talked to no one. The church was nearly finished and the city fathers grew more anxious by the day. Finally, they sent a spy to sniff out the stranger's name. The spy found the builder's home, where a woman was singing a lullaby to a child: "Sleep, my baby, sleep, Olev will come home soon, with gold enough to buy the moon." Now the city people had the man's name! They called out to the builder, who was attaching a cross on the top of the steeple, "Olev, Olev, the cross is crooked!" Upon hearing this, Olev lost his balance and fell all the way down. Legend tells of a frog and a snake that crawled out of Olav's mouth as he lay there on the ground. Building the enormous structure had required the help of dark powers. Yet the builder's name was given to the church, named after St. Olav.