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The Kraziai parish of Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception (read)

Sound background: Gregorian chant of the Palendriai monastery, leader Gregory Castrini

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All panoramas of this object: Kraziai Church (3)



Kražiai – is one of the oldest parishes in Samogitia. From the middle of the XIII century, according to the historical sourcebook, Kražiai land and Kražiai of course, were one of the most important cultural, spiritual and administrative centers in Samogitia. Accordingly to the chronicler Motiejus (Matthew) Strikovski, the first church in Kražiai was built by order of Vytautas Magnus, in the beginning of the last christening of the heathen region of Europe.

Kražiai habitants were christened in 1413 m. and Mykolas (Michael) Kęsgaila Valimantaitis the elder of Samogotia was responsible for the church construction. The elder was not chosen occasionally. His residence was in Kražiai. In 1416 Mykolas (Michael) Kęsgaila built the first parish church on the hill between the Kražantė River and Dausinis Lake.

There is a question: why exactly on this hill Vytautas Magnus told to build the church? We can easy suspect, because on this hill there was a heathen temple before Christianity.

As the fairy stories say Vilnius Cathedral was built in an old Lithuanian religious place the Šventaragis valley, at the confluence of the Neris River and Vilnelė River, by the castle hill. Also the altar of the cathedral is built in the same place as the ancient heathen burned the sacrifices for the Thunder. As the Cathedral was built in such way there is a presumption to think the most famous place of Samogitia - KRAZIAI and its first church was built.

As it is known there should be praised the fecundity and prolificacy goddess Medeine. At first she was praised as wood and hunting goddess, and later she became a goodness of fortune and prolificacy.

The first parish church of St. Mykolas (Michael) Archangel already was built in 1416 on the same hill which has to be held in respect and appreciated. It is a valuable monument.

Choosing the patron, St. Mykolas (Michael) was the most suitable for courageous and martial Kražiai habitants, because he was the duke of warriors and knights, the heaven puissance duke fighting for the justice, right and true.

When a new bishop of Medininkai was conformed by the pope Martynas (Martin) the Fifth at the Constance Church meeting on the 23rd of October 1421, Kraziai one of the first parishes of Samogitia also was confrmed. In 1429 the delegates of Kražiai: Petras Senkus , Gedgaudas ir Šedebaras (The elder’s of Samogitia Kęsgailas brother) went to Rome to brong home the royal crown for Vytautas. Kražiai the former center of Samogitia noblemen, later became a capital of Samogitia grew up and become more beautiful. In 1512 Kraziai got the title of the county and became the residence of noblemen. In 1529 the King Zygimantas Senasis (Zygimantas the Oldest) established the royal law court representing by the elder of Samogitia. This law court had arrangements 4 times a year. As Kražiai was the administrative center of Samogitia noblemen, there were arrangements of Samogitia noblemen and Kražiai became a religious center of Samogitia.

From 1416 until 1941 it means 525 years on the hill of Vytautas Magnus there were built five parship churches for God’s honour, people’s souls and on their behalf and Kražiai glory, and each of the churches was more beautiful others.

The first church burned in 1416, and instead of it in 1475 there was built a new one. It was built on the same place by the provost Duke Jokubas (Jacob) Giedraitis, and a bishop Baltramiejus (Bartholomew) II (S.Vironkevicius about 1472 – 1475) sanctified it.

According the acts of visitations in 1579 of the apostolically visitor Tarkvinio Pekulo (Italian), the church was ornate and there were many art articles. There were 7 altars, all of them decorated with cut wooden statues; well framed pictures painted on the linen. Also there was a big marble altar and there were a few candles with feet of brass lions on the floor. In the church there were smart whittled desks and aureate statues. The windows were very big and especially beautiful organ. In the tower there was a big clock. Six bells hung down in the belfry. This church with all the decorations served for 163 years. After it burned the dean of Kražiai, the canon Mykolas (Michael) Mazulevicius-Barkauskas, built a new one on the same place in 1638, and it was much more beautiful. The bells were the biggest in whole Samogitia and on the 10th of August, 1639 were sanctified by Jonas (John) Višemirskis, the coadjutor of the bishop of Samogitia. This, the third church of Kražiai parish was the most decorated and had much churchy property: crosses, flags, baldachins, liturgical clothes (ornaments) etc.

The plague of 1710 destroyed Kražiai habitants. The third church served for 71 year, and burned during the Swedish-Russian war.

In 1745 the provost canon of Kražiai, Tomas (Thomas) Uvainis built the fourth church. He was an earnest priest and hired 7 priests for the parish. The church of the canon of Kražiai, Tomas (Thomas) Uvainis served just 62 years. The beginning of the 19th century was very hard to Kražiai, a very big fire destroyed nearly whole Kražiai town. Three years later a very active provost Ciprijonas (Cyprion) Odinacas built a new, the fifth church and found the bells, but unfortunately he died in 1811.

In the middle of the 19th century Kražiai was famous for its good infrastructure: spinnery, wave workshop etc. During this time there were 60 shops in the town and in 1841 about 5000 believers were in the parish. The Jewish, who usually managed on trade and handicraft, had two meeting-houses. There were: a post office, a school, bailiff and superviser’s seat. In 1845 Kražiai was in a fire again, and there were only 502 residents left. In 1865 Kražiai had 1450 and in 1897 already 1741 residents. The number of parishioners increased to 7499.

The fifth church was opened for 150 years until desuetude, began to rot, so the parishioners carried many stones to the churchyard and were prepared to build a new church. The project of a new church was ready in 1904, but the government did not allowed to build the new one, only on the 29th of July returned the oldest sisterhood Benedictine temple. In 1909 a priest Jonas (John) Talmantas was presented as a new provost of Kražiai, and the provost renewed the former Benedictine church and made it as a parochial church.

On the 21st of August, 1910 it was consecrated in state. In an old wooden church also there was the high Mass. In 1919 it was given to school children of „Žiburys“ grammar-school, and at the bare beginning of the World War II, the 23rd of June, it burned. Since this time the only one parochial church of the Virgin of Immaculate Conception is opened.

From 1416 until 1941 it means 525 years on the hill of Vytautas Magnus there were built five parish churches for God’s honour, people’s souls and on their behalf and Kražiai glory, and each of the churches were more beautiful others.

After the World War II, when the last wooden church had burned, the hill became a dusthole as until this year the College neighbourhood was like.

Cows, goats and other animals are fed here and blemish this sacred place, which has been sacralic and holy of holies for ages. Unfortunately, it is very sad why the destiny is so severe to Kražiai and all the Samogitia. After all if we do not respect our past, we will bring reproach on future generations and we will lie to ourselves singing we get the strenght from the past.


The Great Duchy of Lithuania (GDL) regarding on the donations of Vytautas, later the Kesgailas and Radvilas, the Chodkevičiai the parish of Kražiai became one of the richest parishs in Samogitia and it had about 180 wallachs of land and much income. Therefore, only the most influential and meritorious men who greatly contributed to the country were appointed parsons in Kražiai. Many of them later became bishops in Samogitia and Vilnius. Quite a few of them are worth mentioning and the disposable material would compile a large volume. Let us remember at least some of the most prominent characters.

In 1533-1547, the former parson of the wealthy parish of Kražiai, Valerijonas Protasevičius, became bishop of Vilnius. His energetic activities involved the invitation of Jesuits to Lithuania. In 1570, they opened a college in Vilnius which became the Academy of Vilnius in the year of 1579.
Since 1549, a Spanish professor Petras Royzijus Mavreus Alcanniensis had been performing the office of a parson in Kražiai. He had a doctor’s degree in civil and church law and he was the prelate of the chapter of Medininkai who contributed to the preparation of the second edit of the Statute of Lithuania.

In 1557, Kražiai came into possession of Mikalojus Kristupas Radvila-Našlaitėlis (Orphan), a duke of Vilnius who built there a residential castle-palace of stone in 1565.
In the year of 1580, the wealthy altaria of Kražiai appeared under the control of the first prominent writer of the Great Duchy of Lithuania, one of the originators of Lithuanian writings, Mikalojus Daukša, who published the translation of Canizijus’ Catechism from the Polish language in 1595, and in 1599, he issued the translation of Wujek’s collection of sermons ‘Postilla’ which had a very special significance for the history of the Lithuanian language.


The activities of five monkhoods at different periods were attributed to a comparatively small town in Samogitia.


A Samogitian bishop, Merkelis Giedraitis, was planning to establish Jesuits’ Abbey and College. However, because of his death, the foundation of the college was protracted. Before dying, the bishop allocated 2 000 Hungarian ‘reds’ to the abbey under construction and signed over a piece of land in Kražiai.

The first Jesuits arrived to Kražiai in 1609 and were admitted by Merkelis Geiša Elijošaitis, a parson of Kražiai, a canon at the chapter of Vilnius Cathedral, a referent of the Great Duchy of Lithuania who became a Samogitian bishop in 1631.

After the death of M.Giedraitis in 1609, the administrator of the diocese Mikalojus Daukša relocated Jesuits from the rectory to the altaria as it appeared to be more spacious and more comfortable accommodation for their activities.

Since 1610, the famous Jesuits’ Missio Crosensis (the mission of Kražiai) with the Superior Povilas Pikielius.

During the period of A.Pacas’ bishopric (1610-1619), the Priests’ Seminary in Kražiai was established which later was relocated to Varniai by A.Tiškevičius. The seminary was opened in 1620 and was closed in 1742.

In 1613, a duke of Vilnius Mikalojus Kristupas Radvila-Našlaitėlis (Orphan) gave Jesuits a present – his residential castle-palace of stone built in 1565 and a lot. In 1614, a Samogitian doyen and the Great Commander of Lithuania, Jonas Karolis Chodkevičius, and his wife Sofija Maleckaitė, the princess of Sluck, signed over seven farms to a future college.

Jesuits’ College of Kražiai was the first higher school in Samogitia established in 1614. The foundation of the abbey started.

Kražiai became the administrative, confessional and educational centre of Samogitia. The establishment of Kražiai College at that time meant a great cultural explosion. In 1616, the first grammar class was opened in the college which was situated in a temporary wooden dwelling. The first teacher in the newly opened college was Jonas Kochas who arrived from Brownsburg College.
Another teacher at Kražiai College was a Jesuit poet Motiejus Kazimieras Sarbievijus who taught poetics and syntax during the period of the years 1617-1619.

The abbey was being founded and the first higher school in Samogitia was getting stronger. A lot of outstanding Jesuits were professors at the college. The college had about 250-300 students. The higher philosophical and theological establishment was functioning alongside with the college. Jesuits themselves and clergymen from the parish could deepen their scientific knowledge there. It is known that, for example, in the year of 1677, five students maintained philosophical theses for a doctor’s degree at a celebratory session in Kražiai.

In 1618, the foundation-stone of the stone college was sanctified. The Lord High Treasurer of the Great Duchy of Lithuania, Jeronimas Valavičius, took part in the celebration. In 1621, Jesuits started the construction works of the abbey, college and seminary church on the foundations of Radvilai palace. In the same year, the foundation-stone of Jesuits’ Blessed Virgin Mary’s Assumption church was sanctified. The construction was patronized by the Great Commander of Lithuania, Jonas Karolis Chodkevičius. The construction works of the shrine were detained by the North war and completed only in 1689. In the same year, Jesuits’ church in Kražiai was consecrated by a Samogitian bishop Kazimieras Pacas. It was the most splendid and grand church in all Samogitia. There were twelve altars in the church. The central altar was decorated with a replication (467x266 cm) of Blessed Virgin Mary’s Assumption painted by Leonardo da Vinci. The shrine had many other valuables in its possession. The king Jonas Sobieskis himself made the church a present of a precious pulpit which cost him 6 000 Dutch thalers.

Kražiai College functioned from 1616 until 1844 when it was relocated to Kaunas. It was considered to be the most important educational and confessional centre of Samogitia and the second most numerous provincial hearth of science of Lithuanian Jesuits after Vilnius. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the number of Jesuits working there ranged from 30 up to 50, thus considerably surpassing other Jesuits’ colleges in its’ potential. It was the most substantial educational centre in Samogitia. Beside a library, it possessed impressive geological and numismatic collections and even had its’ own theatre and a professional choir who used to sing in the liturgy every day.


After the abolishion of Jesuits’ Order in 1773, there was only a six-class gymnasium left in Kražiai. In 1797-1817, Carmelites from Kolainiai lectured in the college. In 1844, the college moved to Kaunas. Since the beginning of the 19th century, nobody had been taking care of Jesuits’ church. Consequently, it started falling into decay and was closed in 1821. The church beside the college completely collapsed in 1836.

Motiejus Valančius worked as chaplain and librarian at Kražiai College, the then gymnasium, during the last decade of its existence from the beginning of August, 1834, until the end of July, 1840. At that time, according to the school library inventory of 1803, the library of Jesuits’ college at Kražiai gymnasium consisted of 3264 books remaining from the former 6 000 volumes. No other provincial city of Lithuania, except Vilnius, could make a boast of such quantity and choice of books. Books in Latin, Greek, Italian, French, German, Lithuanian, Latvian and Hebrew, which had been published since 1427, witnessed the affluent heritage left by fathers Jesuits and Kražiai College.

M.Valančius began collecting the stuff for his historical work ‘Žemaičių Vyskupystė’ (‘Samogitian Bishopric’) as the gymnasium possessed the rich library and the archive reaching the early period of the college existence. The author also used the archival material of Samogitian diocese and Petrapilis for his work of literature.
Jesuits’ church fell into decay in 1836, the gymnasium was closed in 1844 and soon after the rebellion of 1831 the tsarist government commenced forfeiting abbeys and churches with the intention of imposing Orthodoxy and Russicism. The same work continued after the suppression of the rebellion in 1863.


St. Rocco has been known as the magic patron of the sick. St. Rocco feast is the oldest parochial festival in Kražiai having profound traditions. In 1989, a day of Kražiai citizens’ rally was announced. The feast takes place in the extant St. Rocco chapel which was built in Benedictines’ convent in 1832 and inside the church itself. St. Rocco chapel is also the patrimonial mausoleum of Kšontauskiai, the noblemen of Samogitia. They owned Batakiai estate. Juozapas Kšontauskis was a Superior in the Duchy of Samogitia. The relics of honourable noblemen of Samogitia, who had made lavish contributions to Benedictines’ abbey, found shelter in the crypt in the cellar of the chapel.

After the famine of 1709 and the plague of 1710-1711, which swooped up many lives of people, the broken-down citizens of Kražiai and the whole vicinity wept and prayed in the chapel imploring St. Rocco for help. Since then, St. Rocco has been especially worshipped. For centuries people have been telling the stories about St. Rocco ability to eliminate disasters and cure even the most hopeless sick people. Every year, on the 16th of August (or on Sunday following the Assumption) people keep on entreating for health and patronage. They grace St. Rocco with the hymn ‘St. Rocco’ which was first performed during the slaughter in Kražiai.

The cult of St. Rocco in Lithuania strengthened in Vilnius in 1705, and later in Kaunas, after establishing the monkhood of Roccits’ congregation. Having made the vow of indigence, obedience and chastity, the gracious brothers in habits selflessly served the sick, heeded the guidance of their souls and buried the dead during the plague of 1710-1711. According to Motiejus Valančius, later they started wearing pale grey habits with black capes and had a skull embroidered on the breast – the sign of nursing the sick and the dying.

The kind of activity Roccits undertook was influenced by the choice they made in their charitable work: they steadily followed the example of St. Rocco who dedicated his life for curing the sick.
St. Rocco is one of the most outstanding saints in Lithuania, worshipped by Church for patronizing all sick people, especially those who are taken ill with plague or other epidemic diseases. Having parcelled out all his property, St. Rocco devoted himself to the service of the sick and the dying. Having suffered the fate of a tender as well as of a sick person, St. Rocco patronizes those who appeal to him for help in prayers.


The monks Roccits settled in Kražiai in 1713. They established there the sheltered accommodation for mental patients in 1743. Supposedly, they contributed to the popularization of the cult of St. Rocco. Today the town of Kražiai is most famous for St. Rocco feast.
St. Rocco feast is a festival which the citizens of Kražiai enjoy greatly and look forward to every year. Crowds of people take part in it on the first Sunday after the Assumption. The worshippers and the sick from further vicinities of Samogitia arrive there to honour St. Rocco with prayers and hymns and to supplicate for health and other graces.


A parson of Kražiai, Domininkas Mankauskas, who served the church from 1758 until 1797, built a small abbey with a chapel where he lodged the Sisters of Maria’s life (Sorores Mariae vitae) who are commonly known as mariavites. The abbey stood in the place of the present cemetery. When the priest D.Mankauskas died, the sisters mariavites did not become naturalized and nobody else took care of them.


In the present diocese of Šiauliai established in 1997, there stands an extant former church of the sister nuns Benedictines which is currently called the parochial church of Kražiai. It is one of the most significant and respectable shrines having a rich history and testifying the martyrs’ faith. The church is considered to be the symbol of the battles and victories of the Lithuanians and Catholic Church.

Its’ history, like the history of our whole nation, is very dramatic and symbolic.

The construction works of a wooden abbey and a church started on a site in a town of Kražiai situated between the brook of Kražantė and the highroad Kražiai – Nemakščiai. The above mentioned site was purchased and the abbey with the church was built by a Samogitian judge and the king’s secretary, Chrizostomas Volodkevičius. A bishop from Vilnius, Jurgis Tiškevičius, invited seven nuns Benedictines and accommodated them. Hereby, the history of the convent began. In 1643, the church of the convent was dedicated with a solemn ceremony by the bishop Jurgis Tiškevičius and the relics of St. Victor, St. Sergeo and St. Benedict were consigned to the church. The village of Dirvėnai and the manor of Kaunatavas were signed over to the convent and a certain sum of money was allocated. In 1710, Ona Paginskaitė signed over the manor of Pagiriškiai. The nobleman Vitartas founded the big bell in Karaliaučius in 1721.

In 1757, the nuns financed the construction works of a big stone church. The church was designed by Tomas Žebrauskas (1714-1758), a former Jesuit professor at Kražiai College and the Academy of Vilnius. After his death, the construction works were continued and completed under the supervision of ‘a craftsman’ Treceris. In 1762, the construction of the convent church of Benedictines was finished. The convent and the new stone church were fenced with a high brick wall which gave Kražiai some sort of grandeur. The church was consecrated by a bishop Tadas Bukota who bestowed the title of the Blessed Virgin Birth on the church.

During the first half of the 19th century, St. Rocco chapel was built beside the church. A significant advancement was the establishment of a school by Benedictine sisters in 1641. According to M.Valančius, the nuns taught the girls to write and to needle. In the church, the sermons to the parishioners were preached and the canticles were chanted mostly in the Lithuanian language. In 1872, there were 26 nuns at the convent.

When the tsar of Russia proclaimed the global annihilation of Catholic convents, the only remaining Benedictines in Kražiai were not allowed to admit any newcomers.


By the requisition of the 12th of December, 1891, the tsar ordered to close the convent of Benedictines, the church and the cemetery in Kražiai. When the government decided to close the convent of Benedictines, the parishioners did not build a new one. They made the request that the church of the nuns Benedictines should be retained for the parish because quite substantial farmers of Kražiai parish were religiously conscious and had strong public spirit. Besides, in 1891 they had the church of the convent repaired for a large sum of money they had donated. The officials did not prevent the farmers’ contributions to the repairs because, after they had been finished, they intended to close the convent and the church. They expected the people would regret spending the money and would ask to entrust the shut church to the parish. Their request could be satisfied if they gave bribes. The staff of the officials in the chanceries of governor-generals in Vilnius, Kaunas and Gardinas comprised bribetakers and thieves who acted under the supervision of the governor-general Kochanov, his son who was working in the same chancery, the head of the chancery Golobov and another high-ranker Samoilov. They could be compared with rapacious wolves looking for public money to pocket or a wealthy man to rob or to graft.
If the citizens of Kražiai could afford money for the repairs of the church, it meant that they could scrape up some money for the officials as well. The gang had only to give a slick and heavy press on them.

On the eve of the slaughter in 1891, there were only nine nuns in Kražiai. The officials did not take into consideration the petitions of the citizens of Kražiai to leave the church unclosed. On the 4th of May, 1893, the nuns were transferred to Kaunas under coercion. The buildings of the convent and the church were going to be demolished. The inhabitants still remembered the defence of the churches in Tytuvėnai and Kęstaičiai and resolved to protect this shrine as well. The people from Kražiai and the neighbouring vicinities crowded to defend their church. They did not allow the priests to take away the Blessed Sacrament from the church and kept a 24-hours vigil. Nine protectors of the shrine and the Eucharist were killed, about fifty people were injured and many people were whipped after a skirmish between the peaceful citizens and the tsar Cossacks. The most outstanding lawyers of Vilnius and Russia pleaded the cause of the citizens of Kražiai in 1894. That cruel incident reaped a wide response among the Catholics throughout the world. The newspaper articles appeared in France, Italy, England and Germany. The American Lithuanians collected contributions and tried to help the citizens of Kražiai in all possible ways. The tsar government felt impelled to loosen the grip of confessional oppression. The defence of the convent church of Benedictines in Kražiai is considered to be the calamity of imposing Orthodoxy and Russicism in the history of Lithuania. The incident is widely known throughout the world as ‘the slaughter in Kražiai’.


At the end of the 19th century, in the epoch of national liberation of the Lithuanians, the events of the 22nd of November, 1893, were analogical for Lithuanian people of our generation who, on the 13th of January, 1990, were striving to get rid of the communist slavery and the genocide of the soviet occupation at the end of the 20th century.

When we are visiting Kražiai and climbing a hill up the stairs made of 50 boulders which had been trod and filed by millions of heels in the course of more than five hundred years and which testify the piety and strength of mind of the citizens of Kražiai, we should be aware that the hill is truly estimable and needs our hands and hearts to tidy it. The hill witnesses the events of many centuries and the beginning of Christian faith in Samogitia. A decade will pass and we will celebrate the 600th Anniversary of Samogitian Christening. Let us rhetorically ask ourselves whether we are going to celebrate the Anniversary on weedy firebrands, or if we are going to set to work and witness to ourselves and the whole world our ability and wish to honour the precious cultural and historical heritage of our past.

The townscape was moulded by the abbeys and churches of Kražiai, whereas the history of the town, its’ everyday life, academic and spiritual activities greatly influenced the cultural and spiritual life of Samogitia and Lithuania.
In the course of the 16th-19th centuries, Kražiai was the academic and cultural centre of Samogitia. According to the famous bishop Motiejus Valančius, it was the place ‘from where Samogitians were being enlightened’. At the end of the 19th century, in the epoch of national liberation of the Lithuanians, when the nation was awoken by ‘Varpas’ and ‘Aušra’, the town of Kražiai became known for its’ resistance against the arbitrary government of the tsar when the decision was made to close and destroy the glorious shrine of Kražiai. Therefore, during the soviet period the town of Kražiai constantly was under the vigil ‘care’ of soviet occupants and their local servants.

Hardly any other area of Lithuania has such a rich and dramatical history as Kražiai.

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