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Vilnius - Lithuania heart

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Church of Sts Johns

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Phone No.: +370 5 212 1715
Email: v_simkunas@yahoo.com
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Opening Hours: I-VII: 10.00–17.00
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Free
The Church of Sts. Johns dominates in the ensemble of Vilnius Old Town. Everyone entering the courtyard of Vilnius University is not able to take eyes of this magnificent building. Especially charming is the baroque façade designed by Jonas Krsitupas Glaubica. It is of symmetrical composition and waving forms, decorated with volutes, sculptures, crosses, and metal vases; the play of light and shadows add even more charm.

But first things first.

The Church of Sts. Johns is a shortened name. The full name of the church is the Church of St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist.

The first church here was started in 1387, during the Christening of Lithuania. A Gothic church was built under the initiative of Jogaila in 1426, unfortunately, the building suffered from fires in the 15th – 16th centuries.

Zygimantas Augustas passed the Church to Vilnius College established by the Jesuits in 1574. It was reconstructed in the same year, however the Gothic style remained. In the middle of the 17th century the Church was badly damaged during the war with Moscow; the domes broke down, but it was rebuilt shortly afterwards. The Church was burnt again in 1737; the fire was so devastating that even the bells melt. During the reconstruction the Church obtained Baroque features and forms. In the middle of the 18th century the building burned again a couple of times, and reconstruction works were planned by Jonas Kristupas Glaubica. The Church belonged to the University since 1773.

During the major repairs in the beginning of the 19th century the interior was changed, many frescos were painted over, and the altars next to the columns were brought down. The architect of the time Karolis Podcasinskis destroyed the major part of the splendid Baroque interior: almost three thousand wagons of the altar remains, sculptures, and stuccos were sent out to the dumpsite. During this reconstruction the chapels were least affected.

The Church was closed in the summer of 1948. Four years later over 5000 book volumes were passed to the Book Palace, other inventory and art values were given to various organizations, some furniture and paintings were received by the Museum of History and Ethnography. Many valuables were stolen, the organ was damaged, and the altars devastated.

In 1963 the Church was again passed to the University, and was restored following the project of Roman Jaloveckis. The reconstruction and rebuilding works are constant and being carried even nowadays.

The Church was passed back to the worshippers and the parish was restored in 1990.

Pope John Paul II visited the Church on September 5th, 1993.

There are seven chapels by the side naves (St. Stanislaw Kostka, St. Ann, Mother of God, Good Hope, Oginskiai, Piaseckiai, and St. Barbara) and ten altars (The Great, Maria of Loreto, St. Ignacio, St. Ksaver, Christ the Crucified, Sorrowful Mother of God, St. Casimir, St. Joseph, and St. Peter and Paul). The composition of ten altars is unique not only in Lithuania, but in other Baltic States as well. The altars form a semicircle in different levels, and are copiously decorated with paintings and sculptures. There are 18 sculptures in the central nave; 12 of them portray Sts. Johns.

The organs of the church were the most famous in Lithuania; unfortunately they were plundered during the Soviet times, and are being restored only now.

Quite a few famous and distinguished people have the memorial monuments dedicated to them in the Church of Sts. Johns: Adam Mickiewicz, Tadas Kosciuska, Konstantinas Sirvydas, Simonas Daukantas, and many others.

A brick bell tower was built next to the Church in 1600 – 1610. It is 63 meters high and most probably is the highest building in Vilnius Old Town. The bell tower is decorated with the 6.2 meter high cross, forged by the Vilnius’s masters. After the fire in 1737 the tower was heightened and contains features of Baroque and Renaissance.

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Vilnius University Bell Tower St. Johns Church Vilnius University Bell Tower

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