Lithuania, in the 14th century, was the last European country to accept
Christianity, Catholic religious literature, music, and, first and
foremost, art and architecture, represent almost 80% of its cultural
heritage. In opening itself up to "the Good News", Lithuanian society
also opened itself in general to the entirety of western art, science,
justice, politics and economics. Unwilling to yield superiority to the
Christian world, Lithuania's aristocracy developed their own artists and
extended invitations to eminent foreigners as well. As the Reformation
and other changes manifested themselves, bishops and monastic abbots
creatively transplanted customs popular in other lands, such as
pilgrimages and processions, and established "Calvaries" --Stations of
the Cross progressing amongst outdoor chapels -- and "Lourdes" - chapels
or grottoes commemorating miraculous apparitions or locations of healing
springs. Consequently, Lithuania's church architecture, religious art
and sculpture, and Lithuanian religious devotion followed the most
important European trends in worship and religious art.
Gothic buildings are rare in Lithuania, but legend has it that Napoleon
Bonaparte was so enchanted by the small and elegant St. Anne's Church in
Vilnius, that he declared he wished he could take it home to France on
the palm of his hand.
The facades and cupolas of baroque sanctuaries are a striking panoramic
feature of many cities and towns.
The ensemble of Pažaislis church and convent is the most important of
several examples, held to be masterpieces of the uniquely Lithuanian
baroque. Vilnius Arch Cathedral, the country's oldest and most important
sanctuary, was given today's classical form at the end of the 18th
century, by the distinguished Lithuanian architect, Laurynas
Stuoka-Gucevičius. Very many houses of worship were built between the
19th and 20th centuries, when neogothicism was predominant. An
especially artistic expression of this particular style was given to the
Rokiškis Church, by talented master artists and generous donors.
The most original form of Lithuanian religious art is folk sculpture.
Wood carvers known as "god-makers" have beautified the land, every
village and cemetery, with crosses and chapels. Representations of
Pieta, Rūpintojelis, St. John Nepomuk or statues of other saints, wished
travelers well at each crossroads, and at many bridges, forests and
homesteads, until they were destroyed by the atheists. The work of a few
self-taught "god-makers" is recognizable at first glance. For example,
the monumental wooden sculptures of Vincas Svirskis (19th c.) and
Lionginas Šepka (20th c.) are unique and original, evidence of
inspiration arising from the depths of the people and their faith.
The Hill of Crosses at Šiauliai, distinguished by its thousands upon
thousands of crosses, is unique, not just in Lithuania, but in all the
world. Crosses have been raised here in times of freedom and oppression,
as a sign of deep faith and great hope.
Zemaičiu Kalvarijos hymn "Gracious Queen"
Performed by the folklore ensemble "Ula" (leaders J.
Bukantaite and E. Virbashius) and the Kretinga St. Anthony institute of
religious studies folklore ensemble (leader A. Motuzas)
Instruments: birbyne, lamzdelis, kankles and triubos. 1993 recording.