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Vilnius - Lithuania heart

Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania. This town is known as the largest and the finest town in the country. MORE

Place of interest

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Vilnius Cathedral

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Phone No.: +370 5 261 0731
Email: parapija@katedra.lt
Web Page:
Opening Hours: I-VII: 07.00-19.00
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Vilnius Cathedral is located in the valley of Šventaragis. It is widely believed, that before Christianity this valley was a holly place for Lithuanian pagans. Here probably was an altar with eternal fire and a shrine to worship god Perkūnas (Thunder). Nowadays this place is certainly one of the most important symbols of Vilnius, crowds of people are constantly gathering around the Cathedral.

It is believed, that very first Cathedral in this place was built during the times of duke Mindaugas, when Grand Duchy of Lithuania was baptized in 1251. Pope Innocent IV issued a papal bull, which obliged the king of Lithuania to build a new Cathedral. It was a stone building with a heavy squared tower on the western side. In 1973 – 1976 archaeologists found remains of the first building during dungeon excavations. It appeared, that old cathedral had some features of romanticism and gothic. Historians claim, that after King Mindaugas died in 1263, Vilnius Cathedral was turned back into pagan shrine.

During the baptism of Lithuania in 1387, Jogaila built new gothic cathedral. According to remains found during excavations, it seems that at that time cathedral had 5 chapels. Also there are some evidence, that the first school in Lithuania was established near Vilnius Cathedral during this time.

After the fire in 1419, duke Vytautas had to rebuild the cathedral. After the reconstruction it became a magnificent gothic building. Roofs of the chapels were gilded, facades included buttresses. Also five more chapels were added to the cathedral. Grand dukes of Lithuania were being crowned in Vilnius Cathedral, most of them were buried here along with many other noblemen and bishops. However not all of the burial places are dated and recognized.

Three-level school was established near the Cathedral in 1522. Rhetoric, music, Latin language and dialectic courses were being taught in this school.

All of the sermons were being read in Lithuanian language in 16th century and later.

As well as many other historical buildings, Vilnius Cathedral was lit on fire for quite many times. During many restorations it gained renaissance and baroque features. Southern façade of the Cathedral was demolished during a storm in 1769. The collapse damaged the cathedral itself. Ignotas Masalskis – the bishop at that time – delegated famous architect Laurynas Gucevičius to rebuild the cathedral. He planned the reconstruction according to the previous plan, but integrated a whole new building into this plan. The church became firmly squared, as per the style of French classicism. The cathedral became most monumental building of pure classicism in whole Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. This reconstruction was finished in 1820, after the death of L. Gucevičius. Three statues were put on the roof of newly built cathedral. Statues of St Elena, St Casimir and St. Stanislaw were created by Lithuanian sculptor Kazimieras Jelskis. All three statues were demolished by the Soviets during Lithuanian occupation; however in 1997 all of them were rebuilt by Stanislovas Kuzma.

This building became a basilica in 1922, and after three years it got a right to be called a cathedral.

Vilnius Cathedral was slightly flooded during a flood of Neris river in 1931. Walls and arcs became slightly cracked and the building had to be closed for a reconstruction in 1932 – 1939. A few unknown crypts were found during the reconstruction. Scientists identified some of them to contain remains of Alexander Jagiellon and two wifes of Sigismund II Augustus, namely - Elžbieta and Barbora Radvilaitė. A mausoleum was built for them. This mausoleum can now be visited by all of the tourists inside the cathedral.

Cathedral was closed in 1949. Someone broke inside and stole much of the treasures inside, not stolen items were spoiled. Later it was deducted, that all of the stolen items were given for various Soviet governmental institutions and simply sold-out. After some time archaeological and architectural researches were carried out and the cathedral was brought to order.

Vilnius Cathedral was announced to be brought back for the churchgoers during the convention of the Sąjūdis party in 1988. One year later it was solemnly hallowed and since then Masses are held with no interruptions.

Until these days Vilnius Cathedral remained to be built in classicism style and squared. There are eleven chapels and a sacristy inside. Side facades include 12 rococo style sculptures, imaging Lithuanian dukes, apostles and saints. They were brought in here from St. Casimir church, closed in 1832. Interior of the cathedral is also classicistic, with firm looks and decorations. The organ was brought from Augustine church in 1859. After the cathedral was closed, the organ had atrophied without care, therefore it was reconstructed in 1969. The Great altar is decorated with a painting “death of St. Stanislaw” by Pranciškus Smuglevičius, side naves hold sixteen paintings by an Italian author Constantine Villani. Lastly, interior includes many epitaphs and memorial boards. One of most interesting boards is a memorial for Vytautas the Great.

Exterior is exceptional by its strict classicistic style. There are several great statues behind front columns. Statues picture Abram, Moses and four evangelists. Five high relief compositions can be seen slightly above, they illustrate scenes from the New Testament. Gable includes a picture of Noah’s Ark. All of these sculptures were created by Italian sculptor Tommaso Righi.

Chapel of St. Casimir

Chapel of St. Casimir – an outstanding baroque building, very exceptional in the exterior of Vilnius Cathedral and one of the most valuable baroque buildings in Lithuania. When Casimir was recognized as a saint in 1602, architect Zigmantas Vaza started building a chapel as a burial place for Casimir. Strong Italian influence can be noticed in this chapel – interior was planned by Constantion Tencalla, and the overall design was created by another Italian architect Matteo Castello. All of the most valuable items were stolen from the cathedral during Russian invasion in 1655—1661, and the remains of St. Casimir were relocated to Rozan (currently in Belarus territory) for a couple of years. The chapel was reconstructed in 17th century. Designers of this chapel wanted to convey the harmony of heaven and earth. A circle can be seen on top of the dome – a symbol of perfection, symbol of God himself. Many symbolic images can be found inside the chapel as well: cornucopia, angels and etc. A small portable wooden pulpit is on the left side inside the chapel. It can be reached by wooden curved staircase. Additionally there are two balconies, one of them contains organ, which was built in 1965. The other balcony, on the eastern side, was built for the royal family. Now this balcony holds small organ as well, this organ is used every day during Mass. Overall this chapel remained nearly unchanged since 17th century.

Cathedral catacombs

Often it is said, that quite a big part of Vilnius is underground in dungeons. This is true. As the time passed, many natural disasters happened, and old Vilnius slowly was buried underground. A small glimpse of old Vilnius can be taken at the dungeons of Vilnius Cathedral.

Cathedral catacombs were the burial place for many famous people of Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The floor for Vilnius Cathedral was overlaid more than 12 times, resulting in a layer of 2.7 meter wide floor.

After the spring flood in 1931, large cracks opened on the walls. During the reconstruction, historians carried out a research. They found many royal remains, that resulted in a mausoleum built just below the St Casimir chapel. In 1968 – 1989 all crypts were maintained, scientists created an exposition.

All of the most famous Lithuanian rulers are buried in the Kings’ Crypt, which is located just below the main nave. It was built approximately in 15th century. However this crypt is currently empty, with only the ancient floor left original. Coffins of the Great Kings were relocated to the mausoleum.

Crypt of the Chapter is the largest and the most impressive underground room in the cathedral. It is a gothic two-nave crypt, decorated by decussate sail-like arcs. Chapter members were buried here.

Many Vilnius’s bishops for centuries were being buried in the Crypt of the Bishops: Jonas Žygimantaitis, Motiejus Ancuta, Jonas Zaviša, Mykolas Zienkovičius, Ignas Jokūbas Masalskis. Some of the bishops were buried in the chapels as wel.

Cathedral belfry

The cathedral belfry was first historically mentioned in 1522. The oldest part of the belfry was built in 13th century, on the bottom of Vilnelė wash. It is believed, that circular defensive tower of the Lower castle was built in the second part of the 14th century, and applied for the belfry after it was already built. Its walls were gothic, not plastered. Walls included high windows with shooting holes on top of them. Second and third levels of the belfry were built respectively in 16th and 17th centuries. At the same time, in 17th century, there was a clock established on the top level of the belfry. It was last reconstructed in 1965 m.

The round part of the belfry is a leftover from the defensive wall of the Lower castle, which was gothic. First two parts of the top level have baroque accents, the third part – classicistic. When counting with a cross, its’ height is 57 meters.


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