- December 18, 2012
Following Polish footsteps in Samogitia
The morning of December 6th welcomed us with biting frost, which nevertheless could not spoil our plans of going on an educational excursion to Samogitia with our instructors and friends from the Polish Center of Vilnius University.
In the first place, we took with us some guidebooks and a bag full of warm clothes, deerstalkers, ski gloves, and overshoes. Unfortunately, we could not pack a guitar or a piano, because they would not squeeze in our minibus… All in all, we went to great lengths so as not to freeze and to fully realize our goal!
Does everybody know about the Polish heritage of Samogitia, of historic cities like Wornie (Varniai), Retów (Rietavas), or Kretynga (Kretinga)? In Samogitia traces of Polishness have been present for ages, but on our excursion we paid special attention to Polish inscriptions, especially to ones carved in tombstones. There are many of those in Samogitia, as it has traditionally been the region of Polish gentlefolks.
We photographed cemeteries and grave inscriptions found in churches. Also, we added some information to the Samogitian thread in the brains of students of Polish, related mostly to Henryk Sienkiewicz’s Trilogy and Maria Rodziewiczówna’s Dewajtis. Furthermore, we broadened our horizons with regard to music and religion. However, what impressed us the most was the cathedral in Wornie (Varniai). Unfortunately, we could not see the tombs of the Giedroyć bishops and the posthumous mask of Jerzy Giedroyć, of which we were told a lot by Regina Jakubenas PhD, as they were in conservation.
Still, we saw twelve richly adorned altars and a gallery of portraits of the Samogitian bishops. We also listened to our guide’s talk about Bishop Maciej Wołonczewski (Motiejus Valančius, 1788-1875), who was a crucial figure in the national awakening of Lithuanians in the 19th century. The former seminar building houses a great collection of museum quality, including mementoes of the Gorski family, and it offers the service of a professional tourist guide. Our joyful presence in Saint Peter and Paul’s Church in Wornie (Varniai) was commemorated by a signature in visitors’ book, placed right under the signature of Tomas Venclova.
Via winding and slippery roads, we went to Retów (Rietavas), a city related to the Sapieha and Ogiński noble families. What welcomed us there was a monumental, white neo-Romanesque church. It was a tri-nave, Venetian-style basilica, one of the biggest churches in Lithuania. Associate Professor Mirosław Dawlewicz introduced us to its history, as well as to the history of Retów (Rietavas). The Ogiński palace burnt down in 1909, so we were able to see only the manor buildings, surrounded by one of the largest landscape parks in Lithuania. In the snowy park we took fantastic photos, which would be great souvenirs for each participant of the excursion.
Before the excursion, we had associated the word “Kalwaria” (Calvary) solely with the Stations of the Cross in Werki (Verkiai) or with Kalwaria Zebrzydowska in Poland. However, it turned out that Kalwaria Żmudzka (Žemaičių Kalvarija) was not worse than the above-mentioned calvaries. Kalwaria Żmudzka (Žemaičių Kalvarija) is a religious center and a famous pilgrimage destination, related to Pope John Paul II’s visit in Lithuania. It was established in the mid-17th century by a Samogitian bishop Jerzy Tyszkiewicz, who also founded a Dominican convent. We documented the graves of Dominican friars around the cemetery chapel. Some of them had Polish inscriptions, but the collective graves were mostly signed in Lithuanian (according to the Polish spelling).
The fact that the chapels of the Stations of the Cross seem to merge with the dwelling houses of the town, creates a great socio-religious unity. In the local church we also saw a painting which depicted Pope John Paul II.
The palace complexes of Kretynga (Kretinga) and Połąga (Palanga) are clearly associated with the Tyszkiewicz family. It is amazing that Count Józef Tyszkiewicz (1830-1890) decided to choose Kretynga (Kretinga) for the site of his main residence. We were mostly impressed by exotic plants from the winter garden. The three-story orangery of the Kretynga (Kretinga) palace was once Europe-famous. It used to have ponds connected by little channels, fountain jets, artificial rocks with caves, and waterfalls.
Today the restored orangery mesmerizes guests with exotic palm trees, agaves, and cactuses. It also has a restaurant with an orchestra (unfortunately playing from a radio). In the nearby museum we saw numerous artifacts from the Kretynga (Kretinga) palace and from other residences of the Tyszkiewicz family. Despite the unwelcoming frost we still had enough enthusiasm to visit the impressive Tyszkiewicz palace in Połąga (Palanga), surrounded by a park.
The participants of educational excursion “Following Polish footsteps in Samogitia” were students of the Polish Center of Vilnius University together with members of the faculty, who initiated the project subsidized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Polish Republic via the Foundation Aid to Poles in the East. We are extremely grateful for enabling us to gain new experience!
third-year students of the Polish Center of Vilnius University
Tłumaczenie Natalia Błędowska w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Natalia Błędowska the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.