The Great Guild started out as the home of a Rigan brotherhood of merchants, with Saint Mary as its patroness (the Small Guild, on the other hand, was the craftsmen’s headquarters, warded by its patron Saint John). The brotherhood, active from 1354 to 1939, gathered in the Muenster Hall. According to the Guild’s statutes available online, its purpose was ‘to encourage social activity, courteous co-existence, festivities, charity, and soulfulness’.
The exterior of the edifice has undergone several transformations: it was rebuilt in Baroque style in 1697, but the building was considerably expanded in the middle of the 19th century and decorated in the so-called Tudor Gothic style. In the early years of the Republic of Latvia, the Great Guild was used for the Riga Great Guild Society to serve cultural and social functions. A congress hall with unbelievably extravagant wooden interior was opened in the Great Guild building in 1936 upon the request of Latvia’s president Kārlis Ulmanis.
In 1941, the State Philharmonic made the building their home. The Great Guild was rebuilt after the damage of 1963 fire; the renovation, adapting the centuries-old edifice to modern needs, is considered among the most successful projects of Latvian architect Modris Ģelzis. The walls were repainted according to architect Liesma Markova’s project in 1998, and the Great Guild underwent fundamental reconstruction prior to the 2006 NATO summit.