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City of Heaven
Display "The City of Heaven"
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While walking around Vilnius, one cannot but notice the Christian monasteries that are integral to the city’s landscape. Monastic communities have played an immanent role in the city's existence, in part, forming the backbone of its very identity. The monks who settled here and the nuns, who followed soon after, never abandoned Vilnius. As historical trends ebbed and flowed, some more favourable to the monastic communities than others, and as the initial grand dukes, kings, governors, military leaders, first secretaries, presidents, burgomasters, and mayors were replaced by new ones, the monks and the nuns always remained. Not only were they unintimidated by wars, revolutions, and uprisings, they even resisted repression and occupation. Even when they became unnoticeable, the brothers and sisters of the now dispersed communities would not renounce the landscape of their Heavenly City, which was something they loved and cared for, and for which they remained faithful to their calling.

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Bernardine Nuns
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1403 
Tertius Ordo Regularis Sancti Francisci Assisiensis / The Third Order Regular of St Francis

The Bernardine nuns were a community founded by the laywomen of the Franciscan Third Order Regular. They were brought together in Italy by Blessed Angelina of Marsciano. The women, dedicated as they were to the monastic life, lived in a community but retained relative independence, and owned property. They took the vows of obedience and chastity but were not bound by the rule and enclosure until 1566, when Pope Pius V announced mandatory enclosure in all female monasteries.

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Painting "The Virgin and Child with St Anne"
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Vilnius, 1775 
Oil on canvas

The Franciscan and Bernardine religious orders fostered great devotion to the mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St Anne. The Vilnius Bernardine Church of St Michael the Archangel contained an altar dedicated to St Anne from the very beginning – endowed by the benefactor, Leo Sapieha. The altar was renovated several times using the funds of the convent itself and its devout benefactors, and the image that it contained was also replaced. The picture from the Church of St Michael the Archangel that ended up at the church in Naujasis Daugėliškis, was painted in 1775 by the same artist who created the image of St Clare of Assisi.

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Vilnius, late 17th century
Linen canvas, fabric scraps, silk gilded silver and silver threads and cords, embroidering; flesh tints – oil on canvas, painting

An important occupation of the Bernardine nuns was the embroidery of liturgical vestments and other church fabrics, which was underlined in the Bernardine convent registers of 1671–1775 as a praiseworthy activity that made them stand out in the community. The long-living Otylia Lewoszówna, who came to the Convent of St Michael the Archangel together with the first nuns from Užupis, and even at the age of 60 continued to embroider veils, humeral veils, altar frontals, and chasubles for the church, is mentioned among the embroiderers. In the first half of the 17th century, Melania Plonska who was accepted into the Convent of St Michael without a dowry, but later bought a silver helmet for the painting of St Michael and installed a little altar of Our Lady of Assumption, embroidered in gold a great many veils and other fabrics. Franciszka Zienkiewiczówna is also recorded as having had extraordinary abilities. With their handiwork, the nuns above all enriched the collection of liturgical textiles of their own church, but one can assume that they also shared their works with other convents, monasteries, and churches.

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Reliquary of St Felicissimus and Other Saints
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Vilnius, after 1785
Wood, joiner’s and carver’s work, gilding; glass, silk, velvet, metal (silver?)

The wooden aedicula-shaped glass reliquary contains a skull placed on a pillow. In the background, three smaller reliquaries of saints with inscriptions are attached to the red fabric. Under the pillow, two documents were found testifying that the relic of the head of St Felicissimus, had been extracted from the catacombs in Rome, and in 1676 was gifted to the Provincial of Poland Minor and Lithuania, Gabriel Rotermund. On 17 December 1676, its authenticity was confirmed by the administrator of the Vilnius Diocese, Mikołaj Stefan Pac, who allowed public veneration of the relic. On the same day, the provincial handed over the relic to the Church of St Michael the Archangel in Vilnius. The second document issued in 1777 to the Bernardine monk, Jan Nepomucen Pacewicz, testifies to the authenticity of the relics of the holy martyrs Urban, Jucundus, Pius, and Casta, extracted from the Priscilla catacombs in Rome. In the postscript, it is asserted that their authenticity was confirmed by the Bishop of Vilnius, Ignacy Jakub Massalski, on 15 May 1786. Most probably at that time, all five relics were placed together in the wooden reliquary. The relic of the head of St Felicissimus, gifted by Gabriel Rotermund, is mentioned in the documents of the Bernardine nuns among the treasures that pertained to the painting of the Blessed Virgin Mary as early as 1678. At that time, it was placed in a specially manufactured reliquary decorated with silver.

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Vilnius, 1706
Silver: copper alloy (details): forging, casting, chiselling, punching, cutting, gilding

The ciborium, which today is kept in the church at Palūšė, originally belonged to the Vilnius community of Bernardine nuns. This is confirmed by a Latin inscription engraved on its base, stating that in 1706, the Mother Superior, Antanina Žabaitė, procured the vessel for the Vilnius Convent of St Michael the Archangel. Historical sources indicate that thanks to her efforts, besides carrying out other important work such as church reconstruction and the consolidation of pious devotions, a silver casing for the painting of the Blessed Virgin Mary was acquired, along with silver candlesticks, a chandelier, and a large monstrance-shaped reliquary. The church also acquired some liturgical vestments and embroidered antependia (altar frontal).

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Stove Tiles
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16th c. – 17th c.
Glazed clay. Lithuanian National Museum

The convent buildings were heated by various means, such as tile and hypocaust stoves. The former palace of Eustachijus Valavičius, where the first nuns took residence, was already equipped with tile stoves decorated with coloured glazed tiles. The stove doubled as an interior decoration. The uniqueness of the kiln stemmed from the proportions of its various parts, combinations of tiles and other details: cornices, friezes, crowns. Locally made ornate tiles featured reliefs and would often use green, blue, or yellow glaze. The decorative patterns of the tile panels varied from geometric to floral, to figurative and could be both religious and secular in content.

A hypocaust stove discovered in the convent’s cellar under the refectory, was built in the middle or the second half of the 17th century. When the stove was heated, hot air would circulate through canals and thus heat several rooms. Its mouth was installed on the outside of the building.

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Painting "Stigmatisation of St Francis of Assisi"
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Vilnius, 17th–early 18th century
Oil on canvas

The painting of St Francis discovered at the church in Naujasis Daugėliškis, was probably meant to hang in the convent premises. It represents the vision of St Francis while praying in preparation for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross in 1224 at the monastery of La Verna. St Francis saw a vision of the Crucified Christ in the shape of a six-winged seraph and the marks of Christ’s torture were imprinted on his body. The inscription at the bottom features lines from a hymn sung during the Feast of the Stigmata of St Francis: You have sealed, oh Lord, your servant Francis, with the signs of our redemption.

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Dominicans
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1216
Ordo Praedicatorum / Order of Preachers

St Dominic (1170–1221) called for the gospel to be taught through peaceful preaching and discussions among people rather than armed crusades. The Dominicans, famous for their intellectualism, initially settled in larger university cities and eventually became a strong force of re-evangelisation throughout the Christian world.

In 1501, the Grand Duke of Lithuania, Alexander Jagiellon, granted an endowment to the Church of the Holy Spirit in Vilnius, and gave it to the Dominicans who are thought to have arrived in Vilnius during the 14th century. The Vilnius Monastery of the Holy Spirit became the central and largest Dominican monastery in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. It was home to 60 monks rising to 116 in 1748. It housed a novitiate, a house of studies and a library containing in excess of 5,000 books. In 1642, the second Dominican monastery in Vilnius was established in the Lukiškės suburb; its endower was Castellan of Smolensk, Jerzy Littawor Chreptowicz. The Monastery of the Apostles, Philip, and James, in Lukiškės soon earned fame for its miraculous painting of the Mother of God, which is still located in the church to this day. The third Dominican monastery in present day Vilnius was founded in Verkiai.  It was from here that in 1664, the then Bishop of Vilnius, Jerzy Biallozor, initiated the founding of the Calvary as a tribute to the country’s liberation after the war with Moscow. It was finished in 1669. It survived until the Soviet order for its desecration was issued in 1963. It was rebuilt after Lithuania regained her independence.  After the partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Dominicans of Vilnius were subject to repressions by the Tsarist authorities. The Monastery of the Holy Spirit was closed in 1844, and its premises housed various offices. The adjoining church was given over to parish use. The Order of Preachers returned to Lithuania in 1992 and took back into their care the monastery and church of Saints Philip and James.

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Lithuania, 2nd half of the 17th c. (embroidery, painting), 19th c. (fabric, sewing)

On the back of the dalmatic, beside the floral motifs and adoring angels, there are two compositions symbolising the Dominican devotion to the Holy Rosary. At the top, there is an embroidered symbol reflecting the Holy Name of Jesus, because in addition to the universally popular prayer of the Rosary to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Dominicans also popularised the rosary of the Holy Name of Jesus. The bottoms of the dalmatics depict a traditional scene – the Mother of God handing a rosary to St Dominic. However, there is a unique feature that can be seen because depicted on the right side, is not St Catherine of Siena but St Hyacinth (declared the patron of Lithuanian in 1686), while St Catherine is instead embroidered on the front of the dalmatics.

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Processional altar
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Paintings – Vilnius, 1771, altar – Vilnius, 1819–1830, angels – Vilnius, late 17 – early 18th c.

The processional altar belonged to the church of the Convent of the Holy Spirit in Vilnius. The Fraternity of the Rosary had been active since the 16th century and traditionally kept two altars dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary Rosary and the Holy Name of Jesus. The processional altar has images that match the titles of the altars in the church: on one side – the scene where a rosary is being given to St Dominic and St Catherine of Siena, and on the other – a composition symbolising the Holy Name of Jesus with the Infant Jesus above the initials IHS. At the bottom of the painting of the Holy Name of Jesus, it says that it was acquired on 1 October 1771 under the care of Father Marcelijus Gumkovskis. According to written sources, Fr. Gumkovskis, who was born in 1730, joined the Dominican monastery in 1754 and held the office of the Preacher General at the Lukiškės Monastery, and later at other provincial monasteries. In 1771, he may have held the office of the Preacher General and Rosary promoter at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit. By his request, a rococo style painting by a professional painter was most likely used to adorn the processional altar at the time, and was moved to a new tin-covered retable in the first half of the 19th century.

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Canons Regular of the Penance
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2nd half of the 13th c.
Ordo Canonicorum Regularium S. Mariae de Metro de Urbe de Poenitentia Beatorum Martyrum / Canons Regular of the Penitence of the Blessed Martyrs 

Canons Regular of the Penance were dedicated to parish pastoral care and lived according to the Rule of St Augustine. Their connection with the saint and ascetic practice was emphasised in the order’s sign – a red heart with a cross growing out of it, which they would wear on their white abbots.

The Canons Regular of the Penance of the Blessed Martyrs was the first Religious Order to settle in Lithuania after the country’s conversion to Christianity. Initially endowed by Jogaila in 1390-91, their monastery in Bistryčia remained their sole community for a long time. In the 17th century, a large number of new dwellings belonging to the Canons appeared in the Vilnius diocese, but they were mainly small residences kept by two or three monks who served in parish churches. At the end of the 18th and during the first half of the 19th century, chapters of the Canons Regular of the Penitence of the Blessed Martyrs of the Province of Lithuania most often assembled in the Užupis Monastery. However, the decline of the Order that began at that time, gradually caused a crisis within the Vilnius community. After the suppression of all the monasteries and residences of the Order in 1832; two former canons still remained to serve at the Užupis church for some time afterwards.

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Reliquary of St Gaudiosus
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Vilnius (?), 4–5 decades of the 17th c., 19th c.

The base of the cross-shaped relic is decorated with heraldic symbols. Engraved on one side of the base is the emblem of the Order of the Canons Regular of the Penitence – a heart with a cross at the top. On the other side of the base is the donor’s quartered coat of arms with the initials "KW / IT".

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Canons Regular of the Lateran
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1446
Congregatio Sanctissimi Salvatoris Cannonicorum Regularis Lateranensis / Canons Regular of the Congregation of the Most Holy Savior at the Lateran

In 11th to 12th century, canons of cathedral chapters united into communities that would own shared property and take monastic wows, and thus gave rise to a specific category of monks – the canons regular. One of such groups that used to service the Lateran Basilica was given the name Canons of the Lateran. Their goals include serving the divine cult, praying the Breviary prayers in unison, preaching sermons, parish apostle work, educating youths and missionary work.

The Bishop of Vilnius, Eustachy Wołłowicz settled the Canons Regular of the Lateran Basilica, who arrived in the city in 1625, in the suburb of Antakalnis. In 1638, the Canons were given the parochial church of St Peter’s in Antakalnis. At first, the financial situation was unstable, but after the Voivode of Mstislavl, Józef Korsak (1642), and Voivode of Vilnius and Grand Hetman of Lithuania, Michał Kazimierz Pac (1675), donated land for a monastery, life became a lot more stable. The latter benefactor built and impressively decorated the new brick church of Sts Peter and Paul, one of the masterpieces of Lithuanian Baroque architecture. During the 18th and the 19th centuries, the Antakalnis monastery accommodated up to twenty canons at different times and was the largest and most important community of the Canons Regular in Lithuania. The Canons dedicated themselves to the pastoral care of the people in this suburb of Vilnius. They delivered sermons in Lithuanian and Polish, taught at the parochial school, and took care of the almshouse. They led the Fraternities of the Five Wounds of Jesus and Our Lady of Grace. From 1653, the image of Our Lady of Grace was venerated in the church. This Vilnius community of Canons Regular was the last in the history of Lithuania to be suppressed by the Tsarist authorities in 1864. Three canons were accused of supporting the participants of the 1863 uprising and deported. One of them, Franciszek Zawadzki, later became a parish priest of the parochial Church of Sts Peter and Paul and unsuccessfully tried to revive the activity of the Canons of the Lateran. With the death of this priest in 1915, the almost 300-year-long history of this religious order in Lithuania came to a close.

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Kempten, 1759. Metal decorations – Vilnius, 7th decade of the 18th c.

Luxuriously covered in velvet and artistically bolstered with metal on both sides, the two missals belong to the two brotherhoods of the Church of Saints Peter and Paul in Vilnius. The book containing the images of Antakalnis's Blessed Virgin Mary and St Augustine is mentioned in the list of assets owned by the brotherhood of Blessed Virgin Mary the Gracious, while the book with the symbols of the Wounds of the Saviour, and images of the holy apostles is included in the property list of the brotherhood of the Five Holy Wounds.

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Vilnius, 1635

The chalice was procured in 1635 by Prepositus (Provost) Petras Smiarovskis for the community of Canons Regular of the Lateran Basilica, which had just recently settled in the Antakalnis suburb. The chalice, marked with an inscription noting his donation, is the oldest piece of heritage pertaining to the Canons Regular of the Lateran Basilica in Vilnius. Adding to the historical value of the piece is its artistic quality, while the abundant ornamentation and masterful metalwork showcase the high craftsmanship of Vilnius jewellers in the first part of the 17th century.

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Vilnius, 1652

The chalice was donated to the church of the Canons Regular of the Lateran in Antakalnis in 1652 by the Prepositus Andrius Augustinas Kremeckis, which is evident from the rather heavy-handedly engraved text on the base of the chalice.

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Ampulla Paten
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Vilnius, 1705 (?)

The ampulla paten is more recent and less well-made compared to the actual ampullas for which it was intended. The under side of the paten features a primitive embossed emblem of the Brotherhood of the Five Holy Wounds – the wounded, flaming heart of Christ along with his hands and feet that are marked by stigmata. The silver ampullas and the paten along with other religious wares and implements are all noted in the inventory of the Church of Saints Peter in Paul from 1782.

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Franciscans
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1209
Ordo Fratrum Minorum Conventualium / The Order of Friars Minor Conventual

St Francis was fascinated with the gospel and Christ, whom he wanted to follow in the way he had heard described in the invitation of the Gospel of Mathew at the chapel of Portiuncula – that is, to go and preach the Good News with no walking stick or shoes, no belt, and not even a spare shirt. His personal experience was where the history of one of the largest and most historically significant brotherhoods began.

The Franciscans had settled in Vilnius even before the country’s conversion to Christianity. The friar, Adolf, took part in the coronation of King Mindaugas in 1253. Two of the earliest churches of the Friars Minor Conventual in Vilnius, date back to pre-Christian times: the Gothic churches of St Nicholas of Myra, and the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The latter church was where the earliest convent in Vilnius was founded. It was the most important monastery for the Friars Minor in the entire Franciscan Province of St Casimir, which itself was established in Lithuania in 1686. In 1864, when the Russian tsarist administration suppressed the monastery, the Friars Minor Conventuals were scattered and the church was desecrated. The friars returned to Vilnius in 1919 but their stay was interrupted by the Soviet Occupation in 1945 and the church was turned into an archive storage facility for a second time. In 1998, the church was returned to the Conventual Franciscans.

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Vilnius, 1738

The Polish inscription on the base of the ciborium shows that the fraternity of Smoked Meat Producers (sausage makers) donated it on 24th February 1738. The producers of smoked meat had been working under the same guild as butchers. As required by the traditions of Vilnius guilds, these craftsmen had and took great care of the altar of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary at the church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

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Bernardines
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1517
Ordo Fratrum Minorum /  The Order of Friars Minor

Due to the important mission of pastoral care carried out by the Franciscans, in the 14th to 15th century, the strict poverty requirements that had been prescribed by their founder where officially lifted. Brothers who were following the orders of St Francis unconditionally found this to be unacceptable. One of the key reform movements in the 1st part of the 15th century was initiated by St Bernard of Siena and St John Capistrano. Their followers, the Observant Franciscans (known as “Bernardines” in Lithuania) where given the right of autonomy within the Franciscan Order in 1446, and in 1517 a new independent order was founded.

The first Franciscan Observants (Bernardines) in Poland settled in Krakow in 1453, on the initiative of St John of Capestrano and with support from King Casimir Jagiellon. In 1469, the ruler invited the Bernardines to Vilnius. A complex of Gothic buildings that rose at the Vilnia River at the turn of the 16th century comprising the Church of St Francis and St Bernardino, a convent and the Chapel of St Anne is one of the most spectacular late medieval ensembles of architecture and art in Lithuania. For almost four centuries, the Vilnius Bernardine convent was the most significant in Lithuania: it was the seat of the provincial, had a novitiate and a house of studies. The Vilnius Bernardines boasted one of the richest libraries in the entire province. In 1864, the Vilnius Bernardine Convent was suppressed. The convent’s buildings at first housed a garrison of the Russian army, and after World War I, the Art Faculty of Stephen Báthory University. The State Art Institute (today, the Vilnius Academy of Arts) has occupied the buildings since the end of the Second World War. The real owners returned to the neglected church in 1994.

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Monstrance
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Vilnius, late 15th c. – early 16th c., 2nd half of the16th c. – early 17th c., restored in 19th c.

The main monstrance kept at the Bernardine Church of St Francis of Assisi had always been considered to be a gift to the monastery by King Casimir Jagiellon (1427–1492), to celebrate its founding. However, there is some substantiated doubt regarding the period when it was made. The difference in style and form of separate parts suggests that the uniquely structured monstrance may have been created in the second half of the 16th century or early 17th century using the surviving parts of an earlier piece or earlier moulds. This may have happened after the fire of 1564 when the damaged Monastery of Observant Franciscans was being rebuilt, and which took several decades.

The Observant Franciscans of Vilnius treasured the monstrance. When the Russian army took over Vilnius in 1655 and temporarily made their home at the monastery, the monstrance and several other major valuable artefacts were buried in the garden, and as a result, they survived.

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Reliquary of St Francis of Asisi, St Anthony of Padua and Other Saints
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Vilnius, 17th c., 1st half of the 18th c., 1842

The reliquary kept in the Church of Mickūnai holds relics of St Vincent Ferrer, St Francis of Assisi, St Anthony of Padua, St Stanislaus Kostka and St Bartholomew. Documents attesting to the provenance of the three relics, signed in Rome in 1785, were found under a lid in its base. An inscription on the lid states they were enclosed on 1 October 1842. Upon evaluating the style of the reliquary, one can assume this was also the year when it was made. Silver baroque-style elements from various periods were uniquely used for its ornamentation. Judging from the shape, all the baroque details had been initially used in covers for liturgical books. The oldest among them, the winged angel heads, have been dated to the early 17th century. The reliefs at the top and bottom, which were created in the middle of the same century, are decorated with cartilage ornaments, and feature the Three Crosses and an image of St Florian, which is quite rare in Lithuanian art. Screwed onto the sides are medallions with the images of St Francis of Assisi and St Anthony of Padua in profiles that were cast in the first half of the 18th century.

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Trinitarians
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1198
Ordo Sanctissimae Trinitatis et Captivorum / Order of the Most Holy Trinity and of the Captives

St John of Matha (1160–1213) and St Felix of Valois (1127–1212) founded the Trinitarian Order together during the era of the crusades. From the very beginning, the brotherhood, dedicated to the Holy Trinity, worked on the most outstanding mission – the ransom of Christians held captive by Muslims.

The Trinitarians were invited to Lithuania by the chief army commander, the Hetman of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Voivode of Vilnius, Kazimierz Jan Sapieha. In 1693, representatives of the “Spanish” reformed branch of the order arrived in Vilnius. From 1694 to 1696, a brick monastery was built. The Trinitarian Church of the Holy Redeemer, Jesus of Nazareth, was consecrated in 1716. The Antakalnis convent became the leading centre in the St Joachim Trinitarian Province of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth established in 1726. The monastery also functioned as a house of studies for Trinitarian clerics. Their church won fame for a miraculous statue of Jesus of Nazareth. The Bishop of Vilnius, Konstanty Kazimierz Brzostowski, established the second Trinitarian monastery in 1700. He assigned land for the monastery in the vicinity of the Verkiai Palace that belonged to the bishops and he renamed the location as Trinapolis. That is where the Trinitarian novitiate of St Joachim’s Province was housed. The monastery was abolished in 1832. Its buildings were converted into garrisons and a hospital, and later given over to the Russian Orthodox Church. The monastery in Antakalnis survived the longest in the entire former province of St Joachim until 1864, when it was suppressed and began to serve the needs of the Russian army. The church was given to the Eastern Orthodox Church. The Trinitarians never returned to Lithuania.

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St John of Matha‘s Vision
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Workshop of Fridrich Kwieczor, Vilnius, circa 1720–1722

There is some information that indicates that the famous Vilnius carver, Fryderik Kwieczor, created the altars and pulpit of the Trinapolis Church of the Holy Trinity from 1720 to 1722 at the request of Konstanty Kazimierz Brzostowski. After the monastery was closed and the church interior destroyed, some elements of the fittings, altars, paintings, and implements were distributed to other churches in the Vilnius Diocese. The peculiar angel figure is a characteristic symbol of the monastery's mission of rescuing prisoners. Its origin is related to St John of Matha‘s vision: Christ, who switched prisoners, appeared to him in the form of an angel. It is probable that the composition of the Angel of Redemption was intended for the pediment of the Church of Trinapolis.

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1540
Societas Jesu / The Society of Jesus

Following the example of their founder St Ignatius (1491–1556), the Jesuits became guardians of the spiritual life of both clergy and laity. They were committed to serve wherever the church needed them, undertook to educate youths in schools and universities, and went on missions to non-Christian countries.

With the aim of strengthening the positions of the Catholic Church in the country at the peak of the Reformation, the Bishop of Vilnius, Walerian Protasewicz, invited the Jesuits to Vilnius. In 1569, several Jesuits from the Province of Austria arrived in the capital and after being given custody of the parish church of Saints John the Baptist and John the Evangelist, founded a college. In 1579, King Stephen Báthory and Pope Gregory XIII granted university rights to the Jesuit College. The college became an outstanding centre for education and boasted one of the richest libraries in the entire Grand Duchy of Lithuania as well as the most productive printing house in the country. The first dictionary of the Lithuanian language was published there as well as the first newspaper. An observatory was also built. In 1604, the House for Professed Jesuits was founded together with St Casimir’s Church. The novitiate was established alongside the church of St Ignatius of Loyola. The work of the Jesuits of the Lithuanian province (including Vilnius) which had its provincialate at St Casimir’s was cut short by the decree of Pope Clement XIV suppressing the Society of Jesus, in 1773. After World War I, Polish Jesuits settled at St Casimir’s Church, and after World War II, St Casimir’s Church was first converted into a warehouse for beverages, and later, into the Atheism Museum.

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Christ Carrying the Cross – Jesus of Šnipiškės
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Vilnius, 1850

The Jesus of Šnipiškės is a figure of Christ that used to be located in a chapel in Vilnius near the Green Bridge. The Jesuits who erected it and took care of it wanted to remind Vilnius residents of the sacrifice of the monks of St Roch, who were all killed by the plague after staying back in the city to tend to the sick. The sculpture disappeared during the 1950s, when the chapel near the Green Bridge was destroyed under the orders of the Soviet authorities. In 2017, the figure of the cross-bearing Christ was unexpectedly found in the basement of the church of St Raphael. Although the piece has been damaged, it can be assumed that it is the famous image of the Jesus of Šnipiškės.

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Vilnius (?), late 16th c. (after 1591) – early 17th c. (until 1621)

The ciborium was originally meant for the Church of St James (St Jacob) in Riga but when the Jesuits left there, it was brought to Vilnius. The fact that it belonged to the Riga church, now the cathedral, is confirmed by a unique decoration on the lid – a small figure of the apostle St James the Great symbolising the title of the church, standing under a renaissance-style canopy, with characteristic attributes: a book, a pilgrim walking stick, a flask and a hat adorned with a seashell. There are also three engravings of the three newly beatified Jesuits of that time – St Stanislaus Kostka, St Aloysius Gonzaga, and St Francis Xavier. The meanings encoded in the decorations of this magnificent ciborium are greatly complemented by the symbols on its eight-leafed base: the traditional Jesuit IHS emblem and the mythical bird, the Phoenix that symbolises Catholicism overcoming the Reformation in Livonia and rising again from the ashes.

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Sanctuary Lamp
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Vilnius, 1703

The engraved German inscription states than the lamp was donated for the altar of the Brotherhood of St Martin in 1703. The Brotherhood was active in Vilnius at the Jesuit Church of St Ignatius and united German-born Catholics.

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Augustinians
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1256
Ordo (Eremitarum) S. Augustini / The Order of St Augustine (Hermits)

The brotherhood, based on the Rule of St Augustine, was founded by Pope Alexander IV, who decided to join several groups of hermits into a single community and create a new monastery dedicated to pastoral care in cities that would parallel Franciscans and Dominicans.

Augustinians became established in Lithuania during the time of Grand Duke Vytautas – the foundation of the first, and for a long time, the only convent in Brest is traditionally dated back to 1410. Despite their early settlement in Brest, several later attempts of Augustinians to expand their activity in Lithuania were unsuccessful. It was not until 1673 to 1675 that the second Augustinian community finally settled in Vilnius and became the second permanent base of the Augustinian Order in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Having recovered after the Great Plague, the Vilnius and Brest communities grew and flourished. In 1808, the Tsarist authorities took over their main building in Vilnius, but a new monastery was founded in Kaunas. It was returned to the Catholic Church in 1919, but the Augustinians did not return to Vilnius.

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Processional Altar
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Vilnius, 2nd half of the 18th c. Angels – early 19th c.

The elegant cutwork rococo-styled processional altar used to belong to the church of the Augustinian Monastery in Vilnius. The paintings in its retable depict images that are particularly important to this monastery: on one side, a copy of the famous miraculous painting of the Blessed Virgin, Mother of Consolation that used to hang on the main altar of the church, and on the other, an image of the order’s most important saint, Augustine, Bishop of Hippo. St Augustine is depicted in a traditional manner, with clothing and insignia that are characteristic of being a bishop, holding up a burning heart in his hand symbolising the spirituality of the love of God. The landscape painted in the background is reminiscent of the legendary meeting between St Augustine and a child who was trying to scoop out the water from the sea with a seashell. The painting is adorned with a silvered embossed hammered metal cover, which depicts a leather belt in the hands of Mary – an element of the apparel of Augustinian monks, symbolising chastity.

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Vilnius, early 18th c. (until 1731)

A commemorative inscription is engraved on the base of the chalice. It is unclear to which monastery – Vilnius, Brest or yet another – the Augustinian, Rokas Gonsovskis, named in the inscription had dedicated it to, but there is some information regarding him being elected the Provincial Superior of the Polish Province from 1734–1737, and taking control of it again from 1739–1740, when his successor unexpectedly died. The base of the chalice has an engraving of an angel holding the emblem of the Augustinians: an arrow-stricken flaming heart on a book.

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Vilnius, middle of the 18th c.

The base of the chalice features an engraved Augustinian emblem supported by an angel: an arrow-stricken flaming heart on a book.

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1617
Ordo S. Basilii Magni / The Order of St Basil the Great

The Rule of St Basil (329–379) is the basis of Eastern Christian monastic life. After the 1596 Union of Brest, it was applied to the Eastern Rite Catholic Monastic Order, which emerged in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the 17th century. The Basilians paired ascetic and contemplative life characteristic of orthodox monks with active missionary work and pastoral care that is typical of catholic monastic orders.

The Eastern Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity rose on a hill in the civitas Ruthenica (Ruthenian city) in the eastern part of Vilnius back in the 14th century, but it is not known when the monastery was founded at this church. In 1514, in gratitude to God for the victory in the Battle of Orsha, Grand Hetman of Lithuania, Konstanty Ostrogski, built a brick Gothic church using a rectangular plan, and a monastery on the site. When the new Greek Catholic (Uniate) Church was established after the Union of Brest in 1596, this important hub of the Eastern Orthodox faith became a highly prominent centre of the new confession. The Order of St Basil the Great, or Basilians, became one of the key players in putting into practice the unity of the church. The Archimandrite of the Monastery of the Holy Trinity, and later, the Metropolitan of Kyiv, Joseph Benjamin Rutsky, fundamentally reformed monastic life in the Greek Catholic monasteries according to the model of Roman Catholic Religious Orders. His works were continued by the monk, Josaphat Kuntsevych, (he was martyred by the Eastern Orthodox believers in Polotsk in 1623 and was later officially acknowledged as the first martyred saint of the Greek Catholic Church). In 1617, the formerly autonomous communities of Uniate monks were united into the centralised Order of St Basil the Great, and the Basilian Province of the Holy Trinity was established, which was later divided into the Provinces of the Holy Trinity (Lithuania) and the Protection of the Mother of God (Poland) during the 18th century. The Basilians combined both the ascetic and contemplative characteristics of Eastern Orthodox monks with missionary and pastoral activity typical of Catholic Religious Orders. From 1628, a printing house operated at the Vilnius monastery, where Lithuanian publications were also printed. For some time after the partitions of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the activity of Basilians remained unrestricted. However, in 1839, the church union was abolished and the Basilian monks and nuns of Vilnius formally converted to the Eastern Orthodox faith. In 1865, the Monastery of the Holy Trinity was officially closed. Later, with the change of regimes, the Church and the Monastery of the Holy Trinity changed hands, and in the Soviet period, the church was converted into a scientific laboratory. In 1994, the Basilians returned to their monastery.

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Carmelites
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1226
Ordo Fratrum Beatissimæ Virginis Mariæ de Monte Carmelo / The Order of the Friars of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel

The Carmelite brotherhood that was born in the Holy Land as a gathering of hermits, was fundamentally changed upon moving to Europe in the 13th century: it began to focus on communal life, settled in cities, engaged in pastoral care and studies and was labelled as a mendicant brotherhood in the 13th century.

Having reached Lithuania in the early 16th century, the Carmelite brethren were the third mendicant order to settle in Vilnius soon after the Dominicans. They built their residence outside the walls of the city of Vilnius, in the suburb of Puszkarnia, on the private estate of the Radziwiłł family. At the end of the period of the Reformation, which was not favourable to religious orders, the Carmelites in Lithuania, as in all of Catholic Europe, experienced a revival. In 1624, the second Carmelite monastery together with the Church of All Saints was founded in Vilnius. In 1687, the Carmelite monasteries in the territory of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania were divided between two provinces: those of Poland Minor–Lithuania and Rus’. All Carmelite monasteries that were in the present territory of Lithuania were assigned to the Province of Poland Minor–Lithuania, and only St George’s Convent in Vilnius became part of the Province of Rus’. The symbolic border of the provinces ran through Vilnius – the two Carmelite communities that operated there subsequently became central monasteries of different provinces (Lithuanian and Lithuanian-Russian). In their heyday (the mid-18th century), both monasteries had novitiates and organised studies for their future priests. The nineteenth century in Lithuania was fatal and tragic for this order. By the end of the century, not a single community had survived. In 1798, the monastery at St George’s Church was the first to be closed after the partitions of the state; its buildings were transferred to the seminary of the Vilnius Diocese. After the uprising of 1863, the Monastery of All Saints became a shelter for the members of various religious orders that had been closed down. In 1867, it was home to 17 Carmelites, 8 Trinitarians, 2 Dominicans and 2 Bernardines. The monastery was abolished in 1886. The Carmelite Order ceased to function in Lithuania. The fate of both of its churches in the Soviet period was similar: St George’s Church became a book storage facility, and the Church of All Saints was initially converted into a storage place, and later housed the permanent exhibition of the Folk Art Department of the Art Museum of Soviet Lithuania.

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Painting "Virgin Mary Gives the Scapular to St Simon Stock"
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Vilnius, circa 1760–1765

The Carmelite Order tradition states that the first general of the Order, St Simon Stock, experienced a vision in 1251. He saw the Blessed Virgin Mary giving him a Carmelite scapular and promising to protect everyone who wears it until death, and to save them from the fires of Purgatory. An angel sitting at the bottom of the picture holds a banner with the inscription, Ecce Signum Salutis (“Behold, the sign of salvation”). The same words would usually be written on the smaller scapulars – the devotionalia, which the Carmelites would give out to the congregation.

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Painting "Engagement of the Virgin Mary"
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Vilnius, 2nd half of the 18th c. (1760–1765?)

The entire Carmelite brotherhood held St Joseph in high regard. He was the earthly patron of Jesus Christ and husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Every church belonging to the Carmelite Order would make space for his altar, while the Church at St George’s Monastery in Vilnius had not just an altar but also a picture of St Joseph adorned with silver embossed covers in the first section of the retable. The top section of the retable had another painting depicting the saint – “The Engagement of Holy Virgin Mary and St Joseph”, which miraculously stayed in place even when the church had been converted into a book storage facility.

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Vilnius, 1650

There is a very interesting inscription on the base of the chalice used at the Church of All Saints of the Carmelites of the Ancient Observance – it attests to the fact that the chalice of Our Lady of Mount Carmel was donated in 1650 by a beggar named Kasparas Miskelevičius, who had raised the money for it by begging. It is a unique instance where a person of the lowest of social rank has donated a silver chalice to the church. The Brotherhood of the Scapular was based in the Church of All Saints, and the chalice was most likely meant for its altar.

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Discalced Carmelites
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1593
Ordo Carmelitarum Discalceatorum / The Order of Discalced Carmelites

The aim to bring back the diminished component of contemplation and asceticism into the life of Carmelites became the main goal of the reform initiated by St Teresa of Avila. The basis of the new Carmelite way of life was following the lifestyle of the ancient order as well as enclosure and asceticism.

The Discalced Carmelites settled in Vilnius in 1624 having visited once before twenty years earlier. Within two years, they had already settled in a newly acquired house with a small chapel. The construction of a new early Baroque style brick church dedicated to St Teresa of Avila began in 1633, and the church was consecrated in 1654. When St Casimir’s Province of Lithuania was founded, the Vilnius monastery became the seat of the Provincial of the Discalced Carmelites of Lithuania. A novitiate and a house of studies was based there for a long time. The monastery had under its auspices the Chapel of Our Lady of Mercy of the Gate of Dawn, which remains a pilgrimage site to this day. The Discalced Carmelites also received significant support from the Lithuanian nobleman, Stefan Pac, and his wife Ona Marcibelė Rudaminaitė. Thanks to their efforts, in 1638, the Convent of Discalced Carmelites for Carmelite nuns with St Joseph’s Church, the only one in Lithuania and the richest in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, was founded nearby. In 1844, the Monastery of St Teresa of Avila was suppressed, and its premises were handed over to the Institute of the Daughters of Eastern Orthodox Priests. In 1865, the women’s Convent of St Joseph was closed, and the church was demolished in 1877. In 1930, the buildings belonging to the Monastery of St Theresa of Avila were returned to the Discalced Carmelites, but this hopeful period of restoration of this Religious Order was brutally cut short by World War II. The Church of St Teresa of Avila, having become a parish church, has never been closed.

 

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Reliquaries
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Vilnius, 3rd q. of the 18th c.

Inside the rococo reliquaries, there are fragile compositions made of cut paper, glass and cloth intended to adorn the relics. Carmelite symbols appear on every container – a heart, a star and a mountain with a cross. The latter two motifs make up the emblem of the Discalced Carmelites – Mount Carmel with a cross and three stars symbolising the Blessed Virgin Mary and the prophets Elijah and Elisha. In the tradition of the Discalced Carmelites, the heart motif stands for the vision of St Teresa of Avila, where a seraph appeared to her and pierced the mystic’s heart with a golden arrow, filling it with the love of God. The nuns of St Joseph’s Convent in Vilnius might have decorated these reliquaries themselves. Discalced Carmelites were known for similar artistic endeavours using paper, silk, wax flowers, fruit and cutwork.

 

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Daughters of Charity
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1633 
Societas Filiarum Caritatis a S. Vincentio de Paulo / The Company of the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul 

The sisterhood, established by St Vincent de Paul (1581‒1660) and St Louise de Marillac (1591‒1660), grew out of fraternities of mercy founded by missionaries that would be actively joined by wealthy women who would collect donations for the poor.

The Queen of Poland, Marie Louise Gonzaga, invited the Daughters of Charity to Warsaw in 1652. In 1744, the Bishop of Smolensk, Bogusław Gosiewski granted an endowment for a hospital in Vilnius and assigned his palace on Savičiaus street for that purpose. The bishop chose Lazarist priests as the executors of this endowment, and thanks to their efforts the first Daughters of Charity arrived in Vilnius from Poland in 1745. Soon the palace was converted into a religious house and a hospital. In Vilnius, like elsewhere, the main activity of the Daughters of Charity was serving the sick and the poor. Built in 1791, the Orphanage of the Infant Jesus soon became the main place where parents might, for one reason or another, leave their children. To prepare the children for an uneasy life outside the walls of the orphanage, they were taught to read and write and to practice a craft. After the partitions of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the tsarist administration supported the Daughters of Charity and ensured additional income for their hospitals. In 1809, the sisters were employed in the newly established general hospital at the Church of Saints Philip and James in Lukiškės (in the premises taken over from the Dominican monastery). The Daughters of Charity received a fatal blow after the uprising of 1863‒1864: in 1864, they were evicted from the convent at the Orphanage of the Infant Jesus, and in 1867, the house on Savičiaus street was closed. In 1921, the Daughters resumed their work at the Orphanage of the Infant Jesus. During World War II, the sisters left for Poland and never renewed their work in Vilnius.

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Painting "St Vincent de Paul"
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Vilnius, 1st half of the 19th c.

The painting depicts St Vincent de Paul, the founder of the communities of the Congregation of the Mission, often referred to as The Lazarists, and Daughters of Charity. He is depicted during a liturgy with a white surplice and an embroidered stole, holding a crucifix in his hand. During his sermons, St Vincent de Paul used to preach that the cross is the key source of wisdom and an example of sacrificial love. In this painting, the crucifix is also subtly reminiscent of the Daughters of Charity emblem, which depicts the crucified Saviour with a burning heart in the background. The fact that the piece belonged to the Daughters of Charity is evident from the two nuns painted in the distance in front of a church. It is believed that the painting came to Vilnius Cathedral from the closed Orphanage of the Infant Jesus or the Chapel of St Vincent de Paul, which used to be located within the hospital on Savičiaus Street.

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1625
Congregatio Missionis / The Congregation of the Mission 

Same as their founder St Vincent de Paul (1581‒1660), Lazarists dedicated their lives to missions in rural areas and to educating clergy.

Upon an invitation from the Queen of Poland, Marie Louise Gonzaga, the Lazarists arrived in Warsaw in 1651. The Lazarist priests came to Vilnius in 1685, invited by Bishop Aleksander Kotowicz. He donated lands to the Lazarists, and Katarzyna Sobieska-Radziwiłłowa donated the Sanguszko palace in the Subačius suburb, which was later adapted for the needs of the religious community. In 1695, the construction of the Church of the Ascension of Our Lord, began. In the late 18th century, as many as 40 Lazarist houses had been established in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In 1794, as a result of the partition of the Province of Poland, the independent Province of Lithuania was founded with the Vilnius house as its centre. The Lazarists, who are more commonly known today as The Vincentians (Congregation of the Mission), were engaged in activities typical of this order: they undertook missions in the parishes of the Vilnius diocese, kept an almshouse, and organised charitable activities based on which, the Daughters of Charity who took care of orphans, came to Vilnius. In 1725, the Lazarists opened a seminary. Systematic repressions against Religious Orders that started after the uprising of 1830‒1831 affected the Lazarists as well. In 1844, their house was closed, and the buildings were given over to the city.

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Vilnius, circa 1730–1737

The reliquary contains large fragments of bones of saints who had been buried in catacombs, while the lid features many smaller relics of saints and martyrs. The reliquary belonged to the missionaries, as confirmed by the relics of Vincent de Paul, the founder of the Missionary Congregation, incorporated in the centre.

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Fatebenefratelli
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1540
Ordo Hospitalarius S. Joannis de Deo / The Order of the Brothers Hospitallers of Saint John of God

The monastic life of the followers of St John of God is based on the Rule of St Augustine. Their charisma is treating the sick and taking care of their spiritual needs. In addition to the usual wows of poverty, chastity and obedience, they also take the wow to serve patients.

In 1635, on the initiative of the Bishop of Vilnius, Abraham Woyna, the Fate Bene Fratelli settled in Vilnius, at the Chapel of the Holy Cross. The Vilnius community of the Brothers Hospitallers of Saint John of God, was the largest among all the monasteries in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and also had the largest operating almshouse. The infirmary based within the monastery buildings could accommodate fourteen male patients at a time. After the partitions of the Commonwealth, the tsarist administration allowed the Brothers Hospitallers of Vilnius to continue their work, but in 1843, the monastery was suppressed. In 1924, the Brothers Hospitallers returned to their monastery and resumed the work of their predecessors. After World War II and the Soviet occupation, ‘the good brothers’ left Vilnius and never returned.

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Vilnius (?), middle of the 17th c., restored 1678, 18th c.

A delicately engraved inscription on the perimeter of the base indicates that the vessel was restored back in 1678, and used to belong to the Fate Bene Fratelli of the Church of the Holy Cross in Vilnius.

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Wings of Retable with Reliquaries
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Vilnius, 1739–1746

The rococo stucco altars that are currently in the Church of the Holy Cross were created from 1751 to 1753 after the fires that devastated Vilnius in 1748 and 1749. They replaced the burnt wooden retables with painted illusory decorations that had been put in place after the fire of 1737. At this time, the interior of the Church of the Holy Cross was being renewed from the ground up. It is likely that the carvings of the wooden altars made during this renovation are the ones that have survived, since the ornament style points to this period. The wings decorated with cutwork carvings had relics of the saints mounted inside them. Although small, the fragments of wooden altars from the first half of the 18th century are very valuable, because due to constant fires and decades of Russian repression, there are barely any wooden fittings left in the churches of Vilnius.

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Visitation Nuns
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1610
Ordo Visitationis Beatissimae Mariae Virginis / The Order of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary 

St Francis of Sales (1567–1622) united the first sisters who were led by the noble widow St Jane Frances de Chantal (1572–1641). Initially, they were determined to visit and take care of the poor and the sick, but soon strictly distanced themselves from the world, and the main mission of the Visitation nuns became teaching and bringing up girls.

The Visitation nuns were invited to Vilnius and their convent was generously endowed by a resident of Vilnius, a wealthy widow, Anna Warzkietówna-Karasiowa-Dezelsztowa, whose daughter entered a novitiate of the Visitation nuns in Warsaw. In 1694 the foundation of the new convent in Vilnius was laid, and the nuns settled there in 1698. In 1729, construction of the brick Church of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and St Francis de Sales began, and was consecrated in 1752. The convent in Vilnius was probably the largest and most important institution for the education for girls of noble families in all of Lithuania during the 18th and 19th centuries. After the uprising of 1863, the convent was suppressed citing the pernicious and uncontrollable influence of the sisters on the girls, and their secret contacts with the rebels. The Visitation nuns in France procured for their sisters in Vilnius, permission to go abroad without the right to return to the Russian Empire. In 1865, the last public service was held in the Church of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus before it was given over to the Eastern Orthodox Church. The convent was given over to Eastern Orthodox nuns. The Visitation nuns returned to Vilnius in 1919, but were deprived of their convent by Soviet and Nazi authorities, and so they moved to Poland after World War II. The Soviet authorities used the residence of the Visitation nuns in Vilnius as a prison.

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Benedictine Nuns
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6th c.
Ordo Sancti Benedicti  / The Order of St Benedict

St Benedict (6th century) paved the way for Western Christian monastic life. The day-to-day of societies that practice contemplative life is founded upon the Liturgy of the Hours prayers (opus divinum), private spiritual reading (lectio divina) and manual labour. Benedictine nun monasteries were first founded by St Scholastica, who was the sister of St Benedict.

It was Duke Mikołaj Krzysztof “the Orphan” Radziwiłł who invited the first Benedictine sisters to Lithuania from Chełmno, Poland, and in 1591 founded a Benedictine monastery in Nesvizh, (Belarus). During the first half of the 17th century, sisters from Nesvizh were sent to the convents in Kaunas, Minsk, Smolensk and Orsha. The first Benedictine sisters arrived in Vilnius around 1620 following an invitation from Vilnius residents, Mikołaj Horodyski and his wife Katarzyna. Soon the Vilnius community significantly grew in size – in 1622, twelve more sisters arrived from Nesvizh.  For much of the 17th century, the sisters endured financial difficulties but in 1688, Feliks Jan Pac, donated a large estate to the Benedictine sisters which significantly changed the conditions of life for the Benedictine community. During the 18th century, the Vilnius Benedictines began to thrive. The situation worsened again in the 19th century and life grew more difficult for the nuns at the Vilnius convent. Later it went on to remain the only women’s convent open in Vilnius, which also became a refuge for the sisters of other Orders. By 1905, only six elderly Benedictine sisters remained when the Decree of Religious Tolerance was announced by the Russian Emperor, Nicholas II. As the conditions changed, the Convent of St Catherine was revived, and before the war, 31 sisters lived there. In the years of World War II, the sisters hid Jews in the Vilnius convent, which is why, together with the communities of other Vilnius convents, they were arrested, and later released. In 1944, the Benedictine community returned to their home, but in 1948, the Church and Convent of St Catherine was closed and converted into storage space, and the sisters were evicted from the convent. In 1964, the Vilnius Benedictines bought a house in Žvėrynas, and began to practice communal life again. They still live there to this day.

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St Benedict and St Casimir reliquaries
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Vilnius, 17th c., 2nd half of the 18th c.

The reliquaries of the founder of the Benedictine monastery and creator of the rule St Benedict together with the patron saint of Lithuania, St Casimir are composed of elements from different eras. The large glass reliquaries in the centre are richly decorated with characteristic 18th century floral compositions made of paper strips. The medallions with the relics of the saints placed between these decorations also come from different periods: the medallion of St Benedict is clearly older, harkening back to the baroque era, while St Casimir’s piece is newer, dating from the 19th or early 20th century.

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Lithuania, Europe, late 18th c. – early 20th c.

The crown was used in solemn ceremonies, when a novice would profess their eternal vows. The ceremony would begin with Holy Mass and Communion after which the novice would read the text of the vows from a sheet before handing it over to the priest, who would lay it down on the altar. The priest would then solemnly bless a new habit, and the abbess, along with the other nuns, would take the novice's white veil off her head and put on the newly blessed habit. The priest presiding over the ceremony would then place a new veil and a crown on the nun’s head and from that moment onwards, the novice would become a Benedictine nun and a bride of Christ.

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Abbess’ Crosier
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Lithuania, 18th c. (?), Vilnius, 3 – 4 decades of the 20th c.

The crozier was commissioned by the last Vilnius abbess, Julija Anzelma Miličiūtė, but there is reason to believe that elements of a previous work were used to create it: the shape of the leaves is akin to the baroque, there are marks of the lamb figurine having been reattached, and one baroque-style flower-shaped screw remains in the crown. Several portraits of Vilnius Benedictines have been preserved, in which they are depicted with pastoral staffs (croziers), the tops of which are shaped like laurel wreaths with the Lamb in the centre.

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