Friday, May 30, 2008


Last year the city of Tallinn celebrated the estimated 600th anniversary of the Brotherhood of St. Maurice, or better known as The Brotherhood of the Blackheads. During Hanseatic time, some wealthy and energetic young merchants and nobles formed a fraternity of sorts, open only to unmarried young and rich Germans. They sometimes compared themselves to the court of King Arthur – a comparison that is even today used by organizations such as “The Roundtable” – a group of young men bent on socializing and networking for common benefit. The Brotherhood of Blackheads chose St. Maurice, a black officer in the Roman legion who was martyred and beatified in the year 287, as their patron saint, and thus gained the name for their organization. The Brotherhood of the Blackheads became quite wealthy and established chapters in many of the old Hanseatic capitals. Amazingly, chapters of the Brotherhood survive today in some German cities.

As the Order of the Blackheads became powerful it began to exert its influence to the detriment of those the brotherhood did not like, or those who they considered inferior, such as the Estonians. Historical records show how these young men treated others with distain, or worse, certain in the knowledge that there was no need to temper their abuses.

In Tallinn the order built a house in the Old Town that can only be described as a fraternity house. The front door is one of the most photographed doors in the world.

If you look carefully at the door, you will see a relief of St.Maurice himself.

The Blackheads house in Tallinn has been beautifully renovated, and includes a small concert hall. A few weeks ago we went there to hear a concert by the professional National Men’s Choir, which was instrumental in keeping alive the singing tradition in Estonia during the dark periods of the Russian occupation. My nephew, Bill Vesilind, sang with this group for some years before he had to quit in order to get a real job. Fatherhood will do that.

The concert was very nice, even though they tried to sing some very difficult pieces that they clearly did not enjoy. The best part of the concert was the encore when they sang a well-known Estonian song. They put their song sheets down, and just belted it out with gusto. That one song was worth the price of admission! It also occurred to me that these guys would not have made very good members of the Brotherhood of Blackheads. Or I hope not, anyway. I would hope that during the past 600 years we would have learned something about how to treat others with respect.

-- Aarne

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