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Special Vilnius route: Polish Heritage tour in Vilnius

Polish Heritage tour in Vilnius

Churches, monasteries and monuments of Vilnius testify to the close historical and cultural ties between Lithuanians and Poles. Also today pilgrims travel to Vilnius to view the magical painting of the Mother of God.
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Polish Heritage in Vilnius
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1. S. Moniuszko Square and Monument
In the square opposite St. Catherine’s Church and the Benedictine Monastery, there is a bust of Stanislaw Moniuszko (sculptured by B. Balzukevičius) dating back to 1922. S. Moniuszko was a famous Polish composer, who lived in Vilnius between 1840 and 1858. He was author of the opera “Halka” (produced in Vilnius), “Grafienė” (“Countess”) and other operettas, ballets and cantatas based on themes of Lithuanian mythology.

2. Church of St. Catherine
The establishment of the church and the convent started in the 17th century on the initiative of Hetman of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (GDL), Vilnius Voivode J. K. Chodkevičius (J.K. Chodkiewicz) and his wife Sofia, who invited Benedictine nuns from Nyasvizh. The church assumed its late Baroque appearance after a reconstruction that was performed in the middle of the 18th century (by architect J. C. Glaubitz).

3. Holy Spirit Church
This church edges imposingly into the cramped Old Town. At the end of the 17th century a Baroque reconstruction of the church was carried out. It comprises a basilica of an impressive size, shaped after a Latin cross, with frescos covering its dome, arcs and walls. Dominican monks settled here at the beginning of the 16th century. However, later, Tsarist authorities transformed the monastery into a prison, where Lithuanian and Polish patriots—members of the filaretai society and participants of uprisings—were held. Pope John Paul II met with Polish Catholics and celebrated Mass in the Holy Spirit Church in 1993.

4. Temple of Divine Mercy
This Gothic church was already established in the 15th century and was reconstructed after fires in the middle of the 18th century. The Tsarist authorities transformed the church into an Orthodox temple; however, later it was returned to the Catholics. It is home to the Divine Mercy picture drawn by artist E. Kazimirovskis on the basis of the vision by St. Faustina.

5. Vilnius University
The artistic forms of Vilnius University quarters, shaped over the centuries, reflect the main architectural styles that predominated in Lithuania; namely Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Classicism. The University premises occupy almost a full quarter of the Old Town, lined with buildings for its perimeter and located within the limits of four streets. It is famous for its 13 enclosed courtyards, Sts. Johns’ Church (14–18th century) and the tallest bell tower in town (17–18th century). In 1579, by order of King Steponas Batoras (Stefan Batory) the college was reorganised into a university, which is why between 1919 and 1939 it was called the University of Steponas Batoras.

6. Church of the Holy Cross
Back in 1543, a Gothic chapel was built by the Bishop of Vilnius P. Alšėniškis on the site of the present church. In 1635 Bonifrati monks who were invited to Vilnius reconstructed the house—which was built next to the church in 1618—into a Baroque temple. At present this is the only church in Vilnius which has been transformed from a residential building. In the grand altar of the church there is a painting of St. Mary of the Snows (Bonifrati Mother of God), said to have miraculous powers. The Bonifrati Mother of God is also pictured in the façade fresco.

7. Cathedral
The remains of the cathedrals built by Jogaila (Jagiełło) and Mindaugas as well as pagan temples can be seen in the catacombs of the basilica. The mausoleum in the catacombs contains the remains of Alexander Jogailaitis (Jagellion), King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania, and the remains of two wives of Žygimantas Augustas (Sigismund II Augustus), King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania—Elizabeth (Habsburg) of Austria and Barbora Radvilaitė (Barbara Radziwiłł). In the 17th century King Žygimantas Vaza (Sigismund Vasa) initiated the construction of the most beautiful part of the Cathedral—the Baroque Chapel of St. Casimir, in which the sarcophagus of St. Casimir, the patron of Lithuania, is held. Its establishment is commemorated by an impressive Baroque plaque bearing the coat of arms of the Commonwealth of the Two Nations—an attribute of the common past of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Poland. The Cathedral was transformed into a real gem of architectural monument and Classicism following its reconstruction by Laurynas Gucevičius. The author of the sculptures above the pediments (restored in 1997 by sculptor S. Kuzma) was K. Jelski. The eleven chapels of the Cathedral are a must for art and culture lovers.

8. Museum of A. Mickevičius (A. Mickiewicz)
This is the house built in the first half of the 17th century, where poet A. Mickevičius (A. Mickiewicz) lived and wrote his poem “Gražina” in April-June 1822. In the second half of the 19th century a museum dedicated to the poet was established here; it was reopened in 1955 on the 100th anniversary of his death.

9. Monument to A. Mickevičius (A. Mickiewicz)
The monument to the famous poet Adomas Mickevičius (Adam Mickiewicz) sculptured by G. Jokūbonis was unveiled in 1984. It is surrounded by slabs decorated with bas-reliefs picturing the themes of “Vėlinės” poem (sculptor H. Kuna).

10. Houses of J. Slovackis (Slovacki) and I. Krašev-skis (Kraszewski) (Pilies St. 22, 24)
This is the building (Pilies St. 22) of the former medical college. One of the apartments was inhabited by Professor Euzebijus Slovackis and his son, the future poet Julijus Slovackis, who lived there for fifteen years and wrote his first works there after graduating from Vilnius University. A memorial plaque and a bust of Slovackis can be found in the courtyard of the house. This Gothic 16th century house (Pilies St. 24), where Polish writer Ignacas Kraševskis (Ignacy Kraszewski) lived between 1830 and 1835. Ignacas Kraševskis (Ignacy Kraszewski) wrote a lot about Lithuanian history and mythology and communicated with participants of the Lithuanian national revival.

11. Holy Trinity Church and Basilian Monastery
In the 19th century a prison was opened in the Southern block of the monastery—a frequent development in Tsarist Vilnius. In 1823–1824, members of the Philomath and Filaretai societies (secret organisations resisting the Tsarist rule) including poet A. Mickevičius (A. Mickiewicz) were imprisoned here. The poet described his prison cell in “Velinės” poem. Today this place is called the Conrad Cell, as indicated on the plaque. Participants of the 1830–1831 Polish—Lithuanian uprising against Tsarist rule were also held in the monastery prison.

12. Gates of Dawn
The Chapel of the Gates of Dawn is one of the most significant religious, historical and cultural sights in Lithuania, famous throughout Europe and visited by pilgrims from many countries. The Renaissance painting of Holy Virgin Mary, Madonna of Vilnius, in the chapel is known to be magical. It was painted in tempera on oak boards in the first quarter of the 17th century. In the 20th century, the painting was twice adorned with papal crowns, thus granting it the title of Mother of Mercy to the Mother Mary of the Gates of Dawn. In 1993, during his visit to Vilnius, Pope John Paul II paid a special tribute to the painting.

13. Church of Sts. Apostles Peter and Paul
The construction works of the most prominent Baroque church in Vilnius took place between 1668 and 1676; however, decoration of the church with 2000 stucco sculptures continued up until 1704. Opposite the church is the square named after John Paul II in commemoration of his visit to Vilnius.

14. Rasos Cemetery
The most prominent cemetery of Vilnius was opened in 1800. Polish soldiers are buried opposite the central entrance. The mother of Jozefas Pilsudskis (Józef Piłsudski), along with his heart are buried in the centre of the memorial, under a black granite slab.

15. Kalvarijų Church of the Invention of the Cross and Vilnius Calvary
The construction of the church was finished in 1669. The church was reconstructed in the 18th century into a late Baroque building. Nearby is Vilnius Calvary - 35 chapels marking the Stations of the Cross (Calvary) are arranged in accordance with the way of Christ.

16. Franciscan Church
The Church of the Assumption of Holy Virgin Mary Mother of God (Franciscan church) is of gothic style (with crystal vaults still preserved) but with some Baroque shapes acquired during the 18th century. In 1992, a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary (The White Mother of God), famous for its miracles, was unveiled here.

17. House of J. Pilsudskis (J. Piłsudski)
Josefas Pilsudksis (Józef Piłsudski)—the patriarch of the Polish nation, reviver and defender of the Polish independence, whose family had Lithuanian roots—spent his childhood and part of his youth here.

18. Church of St. Teresa
The construction of the church—initiated and financed by Deputy Chancellor Steponas Pacas (Stefan Pac)—took place between 1633 and 1650; the church became one of the best early Baroque monuments in Vilnius.
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