• August 31, 2012
  • 190

Religious and ethnic relations in Vilnius in XVI-XVII centuries

Fot. Marian Paluszkiewicz

In the XVI-XVII century the Roman – Catholic church religion was dominant. While the Catholicism was raising in its power other religions were diminishing. The fate of the Orthodox Church was determined by the Council in Brześć in 1596.

The life, itself, has decided about the union, since the beginning of XVII century against the intentions of Rome, it was weakening, loosing its believers for the benefit of the western rite. However, in the Vilnius municipality the legal position of the Byelorussians, despite the depletion of their number on the city grounds, did not undergo any changes – still, they have equal rights as the Catholics, taking the half of the seats in all municipal offices. The same in guilds, whose principal posts were granted to the Roman- Catholic religion, were filled with the same number of senior Catholics and the Orthodox Church  and the uniats.

The municipality contributed to the add splendour to the “Roman”  Corpus Christi procession and “Ruthenian” Descent of the Holy Spirit and ordered the orchestra to play for the catholic as well as “Ruthenian” holidays. Together with the Catholic Bishop,  The Uniate Archbishop was given annual donations, together with the Bernardine Fathers – the archimandrate of the Basilian monks and brotherhood of the Virgin Mary at the Orthodox church of the Holy Trinity.

The Catholic priestly authorities, as the appropriate organiser of the union, did not oppose at the local law to the equality of the believers of these two rites. Despite this fact, the number of  Byelorussians gradually depleted in Vilnius every day: their Orthodox churches were falling into ruin, which used to be Orthodox and then the uniate ones. Out of fourteen Orthodox churches, at the beginning od the XVI century, only nine survived until the half of the XVIII century; Catholic churches and monasteries multiplied – from thirteen in the XVI century, new ten appeared in the first half of the XVII century: six in the city – of St Casimir, of St Ignatius, of All Saints, of St. Theresa, of St Joseph the Betrothed, of St Catherine – and four in the suburbs – of St Steven, of St Joseph and Nicodemus, of St Philip and Jacob, of St Bartholomew.

Together with 23 Catholic and 9 uniate temples, there was one Orthodox church of the Holy Spirit with the brotherhood next to it and two Protestant churches – one of which was Lutheran, the other Calvinist. In the XVII century The Great Synagogue appeared in Vilnius and at the Łukiszki Street, the Muslim mosque was erected. The merchant gatherings included all merchants, no matter what religion they represented. Guilds also tolerated the the members of various faiths, privileging especially the Protestants to take up the “senior” offices, however there was not any rule for this. Generally, it can be said that tolerance for religion existed in Vilnius.

“In 1536 –  as David Frick writes – after the newly chosen municipality turned out to 100% Ruthenian or in other words “Greek” (i.e. Orthodox) – “Lachy” – the term which usually means “the Poles” – gained a special privilege from the king Zygmunt I. He set up an equal division between “the Greeks” and “the Romans” in all the future elections for the municipality, starting from lay judges and councillors and ending on mayors. In those times (i.e. before the reformation and the union in Brześć), the term “the Roman” and “the Greek” reflected in an explicit way both Christian faiths represented in the management of the city, although each of these terms could refer to more than one ethnic groups. With the growing split of the Roman and Greek Catholicism during the XVI century, more and more ethnic groups competed for the seat aimed at “the Romans” and “the Greeks” (Every Catholic, Lutheran or Calvinist could be “Roman” while every uniate or a member of the Orthodox church could be “Greek”).

D.Frick confirms that together with the growing domination of Catholicism, it was more and more difficult for some groups to reach for the higher positions.”Nevertheless – writes Frick – the Roman – Greek principle of parity was never violated and people from the “marginal” groups were chosen and  sworn into office in Vilnius, yet after the “victory” of Counter Reformation.

The parity, created for the needs of the municipality, had its equivalents in the other secular Vilnius corporations. Many guilds divided the authority between different faiths and “nations” in the precisely regulated way.

The ethnic relations developed more or less in the same way as the religious ones. Since the end of the XIV century the burgess Poles had started to flock to Vilnius: merchants in business matters, craftsmen not only from their own will, but brought also by the grand-ducal courts, magnates and monasteries, especially to build churches and other buildings.

Weak in number newcomers from Poland surpassed the local people in terms of higher culture, which in short time started to dominate in Vilnius. The attractive power of this culture was additionally reinforced by the inner factors which could be seen in all fields of social and national life.  The burgess, who made their local government following the western example, Catholic clergy, initially exclusively Polish and long after reinforced with the reserves from Poland; magnates and the gentry, winning better and better positions in the Grand Duchy, similar to such classes in the Crown, and, eventually, the court, organised after the Cracow fashion – all these factors, unintentionally, with the way of natural perception resulted in the Polinizing the country in general, and Vilnius, in particular.

The characteristic direct tips in this question are provided by the municipal privileges: the language of the documents – decrees,statutes, royal letters – is in t he XVI- XVII centuries – inn 50% Latin, in 45% Ruthenian (ancient Byelorussian) and only in 5% Polish. Deeds started to come up not until the reign of the king Steven Batory, in 1576,  the Vilnius municipality passed its first bill in the Polish language– wilkierz – i.e. the resolution of the city council from 1551.

Quite quickly the Polish language in Vilnius became popular because – according to M. Łowmiańska research – in XVII century – to 1655 there was 53% of privileges in Polish,  37% in Latin and only 10% in the ancient Byelorussian. The Lithuanian language did not exist in documents. An the last Ruthenian (ancient Byelorussian) bill was passed in 1605. However, this  Byelorussian language, together with Latin still was the official language, as the Lithuanian historians state – official style; the usage of the  Byelorussian languagage was mainly restricted to urban and tribunal acts and to describe relations of the monarcal authorities with the uniate Orthodox or Orthodox church.

In the Polish language the bill was edited from 1643, organizing the population of the Vilnius suburbs for the protection of its own interests.

During the Muscovite occupation in the years 1665-1661 the municipal books were written in the Polish language, also the bookkeeping. In addition to this, the instructions for the urban envoys who were then sent to tzar Alex Michałowicz in 1658, and under this instruction there were signatures out of which  44 were Polish and only 9 Ruthenian ( Byelorussian) and 1 German.

Starting from the half of the XVII century, the polonization of the Vilnius inhabitants started. All “Romans”, i.e. Catholics had been already, as states the researcher M. Łowmiańska, polonized, “except for a handful of Germans”. M. Łowmiańska says that in the royal registry if Vilnius Germans, who found shelter in Królewiec in 1655 before the invasion  for Moscow, when putting down in writing on their behalf and their families, servants the contract of loyalty to the elector ,  there were 119 names of their families’ relations including six women: five widows and one, whose husband returned from Vilnius; 17 names possessed by these families, 16 names of the servants, students and eventually 14 people, whose names and professions were not fully mentioned. Together 166 people, out of whom  50% made up the craftsmen, 37% merchants and goldsmiths; there was one medicine doctor and one barrister with families and 3 preachers: two Calvinists and one Lutheran). It is not a huge number number for 14 000 inhabitants is not big. Most probably not all Germans sheltered in Królewie, however, even between these we can see some names of the Slavic origin: Palczewski, Zaleski, Malina, Jerkiewicz, Dilo; suspicious sounds the names Mattesius and Chelchowius, Polonized was always the family of Gibl.

The researcher from Vilnius until 1655, M. Łowmiańsk, writes: “It is difficult to state something more distinct about the Lithuanian in the then Vilnius. The Lithuanian sermons at St John’s could have been mainly aimed at all the people from the nearest village, who belonged to the St John’s parish” Professor Jan Nepomucen Fijałek, the researcher of the baptising of Latvia by Poland, suspects that in 1527 there were Lithuanian among the domestic service in the city as well as among the people from the suburbs. He writes that among the Lithuanian burgess, living either within the confines or outside, were bound to be Lithuanian in XV century. Maria Łowmiańsk, to prove this quotes “1. Wilkierz in 1551 orders layers to announce the verdict”in Polish and in Lithuanian”, and in Russian in order to make everybody who listens understand; in the “explanation” of this wikierz from 1620 we can not find this commentary – apparently there is no bear that the Vilnius burgess could not understand in Polish. 2. To the administration of the linen weaving guild, set up in 1579, belong to 4 nations – there are representatives of Poland, Latvia, Belarus and Germany;also the senior membership is given after a year in turn to a Pole, Lithuanian, Ruthenian according to the reformed bill of this guild from 1639 the board of Catholic and Protestant  representatives was formed.

However, in XVII century there were Lithuanian books released, aimed at the Lithuanian, but – as underlined Łowmiańska – “unnecessarily for those from Vilnius. The only fact, stating the existence of Lithuanian people in Vilnius, there are those Lithuanian sermons, preached continuously until 1737. This Lithuanian element must have been very weak as it did not leave any more visible prove – apparently the element restricted  to the urban common people” From the research carried out by Jan Fijałk and Maria Łowmiańska, turns out that the Vilnius population in the half of the XVII was in majority Catholic, second place regardless of the number was taken by the uniate faith, quickly diminishing for  the Roman-catholic church; the Orthodox faith had almost as many believers as the Protestantism; there were about one thousand Jews and a few hundreds of Muhammads  – Tatars. The Catholic population in Vilnius was in linguistic an cultural respects mainly Polish and in small percentage German and Lithuanian; among uniates and members of the Orthodox church, the then  Byelorussian, since XVII were outnumbered by the Poles. Some Poles were also Protestant. 

Source: http://kurierwilenski.lt/2012/08/31/stosunki-wyznaniowe-i-narodowosciowe-w-wilnie-xvi-xvii-wiekach/

Tłumaczenie Zofia Kowalska w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Zofia Kowalska within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.

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