• September 21, 2012
  • 335

Cultural relations in Vilnius in the 16th and 17th centuries

Fot. Marian Paluszkiewicz

Sustained by the great religious zeal and skilled in pursuing their objectives, the Jesuits began to act in Vilnius on a grand scale.

St. John’s Church became the centre focusing the interest of the whole Vilnius society of different faiths; citizens were coming there to attend public discussions and sermons by Fr. Stanisław Warszewicki, Fr. Piotr Skarga, Fr. Jakub Wujek, Fr. Maciej Sarbiewski and other friars.

The school, founded in 1570 and converted into an academy in 1579, taught both young nobility and middle-class youths of Vilnius and quickly grew in importance. Thanks to the educational movement, educational publishing houses were created.

Protestants – mostly Calvinists – as equals of the Jesuits in the level of intellectuality and culture, accepted the challenge of the Jesuits; they held theological disputes, put forth their preachers, sought to raise the level of education in the school at the Calvinist church, began to issue letters in the abovementioned printing houses of Andrzej Wolan, Daniel Łęczycki and Jakub Markowicz.

In 1595, the first Catholic printed document was issued – the Catechism (Kathechizmas) by Spanish Jesuit, Jakub Ledesmy, translated by Fr. Mikalojus Daukša (1527-1538-1613). In 1599, a postil (Postile katholicka) by Jakub Wujek (1541-1597) was issued in the Lithuanian language.

As mentioned before, since 1615, books were printed in Cyrillic letters in the Mamonicz printing house; up to the end of the 17th century, there were 36 titles issued by this printing house, which published not only publications issued in Cyrillic, but also Polish prints. A similar situation was in other publishing houses, including the Basilian printing house, opened in 1628, and the St. Spirit Brotherhood’s publishing-house, active since 1589.

The rapid increase in performance of Vilnius literature shows the awakened demand for books among various social classes, and – indirectly – the increase in the level of people’s culture.

Maria Łowmiańska provides an interesting contribution to the knowledge on readership in Vilnius of that time: in the inventory of books of Stefan Lebiedzicz, a Unitarian, were works in Latin (95), Russian (12) and Polish (5), mainly of philosophical and historical content, some religious.

In the 17th century, there was a bookstore in Vilnius owned by Kazimierz Wierzbowski, who died in 1666. M. Łowmiańska reports that it contained 1070 Polish and Latin books, primarily religious (Catholic) (417) and educational (79), including 274 books that were “small” and, therefore, cheap. M. Łowmiańska listed the Lithuanian Statute (11 copies) and the Centre of the whole world (1 copy). The researcher believes that books in this bookstore were “designed for the broadest levels of society, apparently practicing reading in quite a large extent”.

The Vilnius University and increased number of its students undoubtedly contributed to the increase in the intellectual movement in Vilnius. According to M. Łowmiańska, the Vilnius University had almost 700 students in 1627, this number being increased to a few thousand before the invasion of Moscow in 1655. In addition to the University, there were also lower schools in Vilnius, including the Cathedral (or ‘Castle’) one, the Parish one at St. John’s Church and the one of Uniate Brothers at the St. Trinity’s church. The Vilnius Orthodox Brotherhood of the Descent of the Holy Spirit had a school maintained at a higher level – according to Western models, attempting to pull away young people of the Orthodox Church from the university run by the Jesuits. In this school only one class was taught the Russian language, three – Latin, another one – Greek and Church Slavonic. Due to the lack of own scientific forces, this school employed teachers being either “infidel Germans” or newcomers from the Lviv fraternity. The highest growth of this school was achieved in the 30s of the 17th century; at that time, even students from Ostróg in Ukraine were taught there. There was also another school, a Calvinist one, which was closed in 1560.

The Jesuits in Vilnius paid attention not only to the spiritual life, but also to the emotional side of life, and they had only one goal: to ensure the victory of Catholicism. It’s why they didn’t limit themselves to teaching by word and writing, which was effective, but working to slowly in a closed circle of those, who wanted to listen and read. They influenced the mass of the population – even the indifferent and hostile crowd – by external forms of religious ceremonies. Therefore, they developed sophisticated and splendorous religious ceremonies, celebrated with unusual pomp, such as Corpus Christi. There were also occasional celebrations, e.g. in connection with the canonization of St. Casimir in 1604 or with the transfer of his body to the chapel of the Vilnius Cathedral in 1635.

Processions, which serves as the best Catholic propaganda, were necessary to complement all the major religious ceremonies, especially those organized by the Jesuits. They were often accompanied by parades of allegorical characters, representing Vilnius, its academies and faculties – theology, philosophy, history, rhetoric, poetry, grammar and so on.

Students of the university, dressed in appropriate costumes, often delivered dialogues and monologues, rhymes and panegyrics for various occasions, for example on the day of the patron of youth – St. Catherine, on the occasion of 100 anniversary of foundation of the Society of Jesus in 1640 or during the celebration of the beatification of the apostle Józefat Kuncewicz in 1642. Finally, the Jesuits organized theatre performances in Polish and Latin in the courtyard of the academy. Plays were written for this theatre by the university professors.

All these festivals, pageants and processions raised religious feelings of Catholics and won over growing number of followers for the Roman church; however, they annoyed the resistant, evoking a feeling of revulsion for “idolatry” in Protestants. It was one of the main causes of various misunderstandings between Catholics and Protestants at the beginning of the 17th century: the overall excitement, fuelled by public disputes, sermons and religious literature was growing in the society and even led to some social and anti-religious outbursts. And so in 1611 during the procession of Corpus Christi a blasphemy by Protestants was noted; in 1640 a noisy funeral of a dissident took place; a provocative occurrence of archers led to the turmoil in the city, during which the excited crowd attacked the dissenters, demolished their houses and destroyed their temple. Such riots against Calvinists took place in Vilnius in 1591, 1611, 1629 and 1682.

Calvinists were forced to keep a special walking guard, consisting of 4 to 8 people to protect the church in case of tumult. The street fanaticism of Vilnius, certainly influenced by the Jesuits, reached high intensity in the first half of the 17th century. This fanaticism, ‘born out of fight’, as M. Łowmiańska writes, ‘inspired by youngsters centred around leaders, propagated on the ground of religious intolerance of the age; all the exuberance of life of the Grand Duchy and its capital found its outlet in it’.

The Vilnius society in 17th century wasn’t tolerant, the Catholics’ and Uniate’s hatred was aimed exclusively at Calvinists. M. Łowmiańska believes that the reason for it was the military tactics of the leaders of Calvinists, since Lutherans refused to participate in religious fights and the Orthodox Church quietly vegetated, centred on St. Spirit’s Church after the departure of the Orthodox faithful to the Union. Catholics didn’t act against the Orthodox Church, and St. Spirit’s Church with its few believers survived all the riots of citizens.

It’s worth mentioning that King’s visits to the capital of the Grand Duchy were another occasion for public demonstration of crowd’s feelings. King was greeted by salvos, music and beautiful oration given by the mayor while handing symbolic keys to the city gates. Citizens went out of the city to greet the King on the road and lead him, under golden canopy, to the city through the Rudnicka Gate, beautifully adorned for the day. Within the walls of the city, the King came under the triumphal gates, erected on the square by townspeople and next to St. John’s church by the Jesuits, who actively participated in the ceremony, adding splendour to it with performances of their students, dressed in appropriate costumes.

If the Queen visited Vilnius separately, she was greeted with equally royal grandeur – ‘accompanied by the senators, courtiers, and soldiers, greeted by all states and admired by foreigners’. The governor and, of course, the Catholic bishop and the Uniate metropolitan were introduced to the city with a large pump, but not so sumptuously. On such occasions, the triumphal gates were erected as well, adorned with frames and pillars and with some symbolic characters: “person” for secular rulers, “angioł” for clerics. Additionally, some porches were built for the orchestra. The Governor was greeted by armed forces of the townspeople, and the mayor prepared suitable oration for every dignitary. Of course, many commoners of Vilnius watched these arrivals of the officials.

Source: http://kurierwilenski.lt/2012/09/21/stosunki-kulturalne-w-wilnie-w-xvi-xvii-wiekach-3/

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

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