• October 5, 2012
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The home life of the Vilnius townspeople at he turn of the XVI and XVII century (2)

Fot. Marian Paluszkiewicz

Driven by great religious zeal and cleverness in achieving their goals, the Jesuits began to act with a flourish unknown in Vilnius. St. John’s church became a centre gathering the Vilnius multireligious population that came there to discuss in public about religion and listen to the sermons preached by the priesters:  Stanisław Warszewicki, Piotr Skarga, Jakub Wujek,  Maciej Kazimierz Sarbiewski and other munks.

The importance of school founded in 1570 grew seriously, since 1579 flourished the Academy attended by noble but also by urban Vilnius youths. As a result of the educational movement the publishing houses started to publish (see above).
Protestants, to be more specific Calvinists who were as good as Jesuits concerning the intellectual and cultural level, took on the  Jesuits’ challenge to theological disputes and put forward their preachers, strived to improve the level of the school at the Protestant church and began to publish their publications in the above mentioned printing-houses of Jan Karcan, Andrzej Wolan, Daniel Łęczycki and Jakub Markowicz.

In 1595 appeared the first Catholic Lithuanian printing – a catechism (kathechizmas) of a Spanish Jesuit Jacob Ledesma translated by the canon Mikołaj Dauksza (Mikalojus Daukša, 1527-1538-1613). In 1599 came out the Lithuanian version of  the Jakub Wujek’s (1541-1597) postil — „Postilė katholicka”.

As mentioned, since 1615 the Mamonicz printing house published books written in Cyrilic alphabet –  there were 36 of them till the end of the sixteenth century. In addition to the Cyrillic ones the Mamonicz publishing house published also Polish printings. It was similar in the Basilian publishing house opened in 1628 as well as in the printing house of the Orthodox Holy Spirit Confraternity, active since 1589.

The rapidly increasing efficiency of Vilnius literature indicates probably the awakened demand for books among broader layers of society and thus indirectly an increase in the level of its culture.
Maria Łowmiańska provides an interesting contribution to the reading activity in the then Vilnius, namely –  in the list of books owed by a  merchant and mayor, a follower of unitarianism, Stefan Lebiedzicz from 1649 there were 95 books in Latin, 12 in Russian, 5 in Polish mainly of philosophical and historical, sometimes religious content.

At the church of the St. Trinity in Vilnius operated a Unitarian school. Przy cerkwi św. Trójcy w Wilnie funkcjonowała szkoła bracka, unicka

In Vilnius, in the seventeenth century, there was a bookstore of Kazimier Wierzbowski who died in 1666. M. Łowmiańska reported that it contained 1 070 Polish and Latin books, mostly of religious  (Catholic) – 417 units or school – 79 units, content, with 274 mostly ”small” and therefore cheap books. Among the books M. Łowmiańska lists the 11 copies of the “Statute of Lithuania” and 1 copy of the “Centre of the whole world”. The researcher believes that books from that bookstore “were designed for the broadest layers of society that apparently practiced reading in quite a large extent.”

The intellectual movement was undoubtedly strenghtened by the Vilnius Academy and the increase in the number of its students. According to M. Łowmiańska there were already 700 of them in 1627 and a few thousands in 1655, before the Moscow invasion. Apart from the Academy there were several lower schools in Vilnius: the cathedral school, known also as the castle school, ”Farna” at the St. John’s church and the unitarian school, at  the St. Trinity Orthodox church. The Orthodox confraternity at  the St. Trinity Orthodox church had a school that operated according to the Western standards trying to dissuade the Orthodox youths from the Jesuit Academy. In the school Ruthenian language was taught only in one class, Latin in three classes, in one Greek and Church Slavic. The teachers were either ”infidel Germans” or they were brought from the Lviv confraternity because of  the lack of own teaching staff. The school was at the peak of its success in the thirties of the seventeenth century when it was attended even by students from Ostroh in the Ukraine. There was also a Calvinist school which was closed down in 1560.

Apart from their spiritual life, the Jesuits in Vilnius paid attention also to the feelings of the Vilnius residents and had only one goal: to ensure the victory of Catholicism. That is why they did not limit theirselves to oral and written education which was efficient but only among those who wanted to listen and read.

The Jesuits tried to influence the indifferent or even  hostile masses of population and win them over by the external forms of religious ceremonies. Therefore the religious festivals like Corpus Christi were celebrated with great splendour. Also some single festivals were celebrated, e.g.  the canonization of St. Kazimierz in 1604 or the transfer of his body to the Vilnius Cathedral in 1636.

Processions, which served best as Catholic propaganda, were the necessary element of all the bigger religious festivals, especially those organized by the Jesuits. They were often accompanied by the  parade of the allegorical figures of Vilnius, the Academy and its charges — theology, philosophy, history, rhetoric, poetry, grammar and so on.
The Academy students delivered frequently, appropiately dressed, dialogues and monologues, rhymes and eulogies, e.g on the St. Katarzyna day in celebration of the hundreth jubilee of the Society of Jesus in 1640 or during the celebrations connected with the beatification of the apostle Józefat Kuncewicz in 1642.

Finally, the Jesuits organized in the courtyard of the Academy theatre performances in Latin and Polish. The plays for this Jesuit theatre were written by the Academy’s professors.
All these festivals, spectatles, processions raised the religious feelings of the Catholics and won the Catholic church new believers but at the same time irritated the reluctant people, especially Evangelicals and repelled them because of the Catholic idolatry. Thus, at the beginning of the seventeenth century there were various misunderstandings between Catholics and Protestants   because the general excitement, intensified by public discusions, sermons, religious literature grew in society and even led to social and anti-religious outbreaks. And so in 1611 a case of evangelical blasphemy during the procession of Corpus Christi was noted, in 1640 there was a noisy funeral of a dissident; a provocative speech of  some archers led to riots in the town: the crowd got carried away and attacked the dissenters, demolished their houses, destroyed the temple. Such riots against Calvinists took place in Vilnius in 1591, 1611, 1629 and 1682. The Calvinists were forced to keep a special 4-6-man foot guard for the sake of safety in case of riots.

The fanaticism of the Vilnius street, undoubtedly under the influence of the Jesuits reached in the first half of the XVII century a high intensity. ”Born to fight – says M. Łowmiańska – inspired by many unruly youths gathered around leaders the fanaticism spreads because of  the religious intolerance typical of the age and all the exuberance of life following from the civilisation youth of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and its capital, finds its vent in this way.”

The population of Vilnius at the beginning of the seventeenth century was not tolerant because hatred of the Catholic and Unitarian majority turned almost exclusively against the Calvinists. M. Łowmiańska believes that the cause was the battle tactics of the Calvinists’s leaders because Lutherans refused to take part in the religious fights, the Orthodox church on the other hand, after a part of its followers converted to the union, vegetated quietly, centered around the Holy Spirit church. The Catholics did not attack the small Orthodox community, the Holy Spirit Orthodox church survived all the riots of the townspeople.

It is worth noting that the Vilnius townspeople demonstrated their feelings also when a king of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania came to the capital. He was greeted with ”the cannon salvos, music and a  beatiful oration at the opportunity of handing in the symbolic keys.” There was a custom of going out to meet the king and bringing him under a golden canopy along the Rudnicka street which was beautifully decorated at that day. Within the walls the king came under the triumphant gate erected  on the square by the townspeople and at the St. John’s church decorated by the Jesuits who took active part in the ceremony and added splendour to it with the shows performed by their students dressed in special costumes.

The arrival of the queen to Vilnius, if she came there alone was equally impressive  – ”she was assisted by the senators, court, soldiers”.
The voivode and of course a Catholic bishop and a Unitarian metropolitan were not greeted so sumptuously but also with great ceremony. You could not do without the obligatory trumphant gates decorated with ”frames” and pillars as well as, depending on the honoured personage, with arms and some symbolic ”persons” – in case of lay dignitaries or with ”angels” if it was a clergyman. Also  galleries for the orchestra were erected. The voivode was welcomed by the armed townspeople troops, every dignitary was greeted by an appropriate oration delivered by ”wójt”. All these arrivals of dignitaries to a town were of course followed by a great number of Vilnius commoners. 

Source: http://kurierwilenski.lt/2012/10/05/zycie-domowe-mieszczan-wilenskich-w-koncu-xvi-poczatku-xvii-wieku-2/  

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

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