• December 19, 2014
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Walking down the Vilnius streets: Gucewicz, the great architect

Wawrzyniec Gucewicz Street (in Lithuanian: Laurynas Stuoka-Gucevičius Street) is located in the centre of Vilnius. Earlier, it had a few other names: Bonifraterska Street, II Bonifraterski Zaułek (Alley), later on Chłopska (in Lithuanian: Valstiečių, in English: Peasants’) Street and Siemionowskaja Street.

Bonfraterska Street was named after The Brothers Hospitallers of St. John of God, whose monastery was situated next to Saint Cross Church. Despite its official name, the church was often referred to by Vilnius dwellers just as the Brothers’ church. The street is placed in the neighbourhood of Gucewicz’s greatest work: the Vilnius Cathedral. Thanks to his project, the Cathedral got its classicistic appearance, which can be admired nowadays. For this project, Gucewicz was awarded with the Merentibus (‘of outstanding merit’) medal by Stanisław August Poniatowski, the last King of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth.

At one end of Bonifraterska Street, just after the unaesthetic modern building of ‘Amberton’, the four-star hotel, there is green wooden house numer 5. At its elevation, a white marble plaque with inscriprions in Lithuanian and Polish. They inform that Julija Žemaitė, the classic Lithuanian writer, lived here. In her works, she portrayed Lithuanian peasants life. That is why the street was named Chłopska. Opposite to Julija Žemaitė’s house, there is a small brick building, where the ‘Dom Krzyża’ charity organization (‘The House of Cross’; in Lithuanian ‘Kryžiaus namai’) has its headquarters. In many town houses, ground floors, which used to be flats some time ago, function as places for various gastronomic businesses. While walking in the direction of Tatarska Street, buildings on the right side are filled with offices and little shops. In the brick town house number 11, there is the office of the ‘Tėvynės sąjunga’ political party (in Polish: „Związek Ojczyzny”; in English: ‘Homeland Union’). In the next town house, number 13, professor Michał Romer, a historian, lived in 1940s. This fact is commemorated with a plaque placed on the elevation of this building. On the left side of the street, there is a wall surrounding the Presidental Palace.

It is worth introducing a few facts about Wawrzyniec Gucewicz. He was born in the village named Migionie near Kupiszki. His certificate of baptism, written in Latin, says that Laurentium Gucewicz was born in 1753. According to Tomas Venclova and his book ‘Vilniaus vardai’ (‘Vilnius names’) , the latter development of Gucewicz’s surname into double-barreled (Gucewicz-Stuoka) is a result of historians’ mistake. Gucewicz arrived to Vilnius when he was 20 and joined the missionary convent, but he left it soon; later on, he studied architecture at Vilnius Principal School. His outstanding talent was noticed and appreciated. As a result, bishop Ignacy Massalski sent Gucewicz abroad, including Roma and Paris, enabling him to receive brilliant education. Gucewicz also travelled a lot with the bishop to many European cities. At last, he became Ignacy Massalski’s architect.

In 1794 Gucewicz became the professor of architecture at his alma mater, Vilnius Principal School. He lost this title for a few years as a punishment for taking part in Kościuszko Uprising. He was injured during the battle of Woronowo. Gucewicz was a member of the masonic lodge named ‘Gorliwy Litwin’ (in English: The Ardent Lithuanian). Historical source materials say that he had a beautiful wife and five children: three daughters and two sons. According to the well-known Vilnius architect and the professor of the Vilnius Academy of Fine Arts, Eduardas Budreika, one of Wawrzyniec Gucewicz’s daughters, Julia, married a Frenchman, Antoine Cui, who (surprisingly) stayed in Vilnius after the war in 1812. This former Napoleonic officer was a French teacher and also an organist in Catholic churches in Vilnius. Julia and Antoine had a son, Cezar Cui. The Gucewicz’s grandson occurred to become an outstanding Russian composer, general officer and professor of fortification in Petersburg.

Wawrzyniec Gucewicz and his family lived in their own town house, which was situated near Saint John Church and Pac Palace – nowadays, the residence of Polish Embassy in Lithuania.  The town house survived the Second World War, however, it was quite severely damaged. The contemporary architects are convinced that the building could have been renovated as its condition was not so poor. Unfortunately, town houses at Niemiecka (German) Street, burned by Nazi soldiers, were demolished in 1950s and 1960s. This urban space was adapted into a prospect (a broad, multi-lane and very long straight street), popular during the socialist period. At the same time, buildings located at Zamkowa, Dominikańska and other Old Town streets were also taken down. The Gucewicz’s residence disappeared from the Vilnius landscape forever; nowadays, there is placed a car parking and a square.

Wawrzyniec Gucewicz carried out many projects, for instance, Verkiai Palace and Vilnius Town Hall. The last building was finished after the Gucewicz’s death. As a result, his idea was not fully reflected: a tower with statue presenting Stanisław August Poniatowski was supposed to be built next to the town hall. Moreover, the bishop palace (nowadays the Presidential Palace) was to be modernized with accordance to the plan prepared by Gucewicz. As he died, the further control over work was given to Vassiliev Stasovov, a Russian architect, who totally rejected the original project. This decision turned out to be very disadvantageous for the appearance of this historical building.

Saint Stephen Church is also worth mentioning. This is an early baroque church, built from 1600 till 1612. At that time, the building was located outside Vilnius; as the city area was expanding, Saint Stephen Church became a very important point on its map. Over centuries, the church was modernized many times and, thanks to these renovations, got more classicistic look. Unfortunately, after the Second World War, the new authorities of Vilnius altered the church into factory, destroying its decorative elevation and interior to a large extent. The cemetery situated next to this church, where Wawrzyniec Gucewicz was buried, disappeared.

Saint Stephen Church has been recently renovated; unfortunately, it does not serve its original function. The church remains forgotten among various workshops and offices, e.g. the one of Caritas, the Catholic charity organization; a nave of the church is sometimes used by monks. The neatly renovated plaque and recently-made portrait placed on the south wall of the church remind that here lie the remains of the great architect:

‘D. O. M. (this abbreviation means: ‘To God, most good, most great’)

Here lies Wawrzyniec GUCEWICZ

The Architect, Professor of former Vilnius Academy

Late in 1798 Aged 45

Please Say a Prayer for Heavenly Peace’

Coming back to the city centre: there is the statue commemorating Wawrzyniec Gucewicz, situated at street named after him, near Saint Cross Church and the Vilnius Cathedral, his brilliant work. The monument created by a Lithuanian sculptor Vladas Vildžiunas was unveiled in 1984. It presents a person whose lower part of body is combined with a round pedestal and the following inscription: ‘Laurynas Stuoka-Gucevičius’…

Translated by Joanna Stępińska within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.

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