- October 16, 2015
Polish Lithuania (II)
Extremely close connection of Polish and Lithuanian culture, about which we have written before, does not only come from the close proximity of the two nations which had been a coherent and common national organism throughout the ages. In this cultural region, the symbiosis is an expression of double creative consciousness of Polish and Lithuanian, or rather Polish-Lithuanian cultural activists.
A coherence of two elements in one message results in cultural value which is globally unique. Both nations can use it and get inspired by it – both Lithuanians and Poles. Unfortunately, today the biggest benefactors of these resources are foreigners. The symbiosis of works of Polish-Lithuanian artists seems to surpass cultural abilities of its inheritors.
– Local trourists visit Kražiai and our Centre. But foreigners come here most preferably and purposefully – they are fans and connoisseurs of works of Maciej Kazimierz Sarbiewski. They want to personally touch the places and feel the atmosphere in which the writings were created – says the guide of Maciej Kazimierz Sarbiewski Museum located in the M.K. Sarbiewski Culture Centre (Kražių Motiejaus Kazimiero Sarbievijaus Kultūros Centras) – a grand building which used to be a monastery. The building seems to stick out from the provincial town with its majesty and grandiose.
There used to be more than 20 of such buildings here – with a huge church in the centre which could rival many big Lithuanian temples. Was is equally grand? Unfortunately, we would not know. We can only imagine while overlapping its pictures and contours of foundations of the temple which are marked with red brick on the square in front of the only building which survived until today – Jesuit High School in Kražiai.
Polish tourists visiting Lithuania and slowly maundering between the Gate of Dawn and Rasos or even a local Lithuanian tourist do not know that Kražiai was the place of work and study for a world-known neo-Latin poet and theorist of baroque literature. In recognition of his works, Maciej Kazimierz Sarbiewski was called Sarmatian Horace. Sarbiewski was one of the three Poles who was awarded the most prestigious literary award “Laur Poetycki” by the pope. The prestige of that award is comparable to today’s literary Nobel Prize. Maciej Kazimierz Sarbiewski got the award in 1622 from Pope Urban VIII. The literary works of “baroque” Polish-Lithuanian “Nobel Prize winner” is admired by literary scholars and fans of the genre.
– Unfortunatelly, all exhibits have been rented – the guide tells us as we stand in front of empty showcases of Maciej Kazimierz Sarbiewski Museum. The Museum does not have many exhibits (a few manuscripts and issues), but they are extremely popular and many museums from around the world want to display them. No wonder, Sarbiewski is, also today, one of the most popular Polish artists abroad. His writings are most often published along with the works of for example Henryk Sienkiewicz.
The small town in which the great poet lived and worked used to be one of Lithuania’s biggest centres of culture and science. Not only Polish ‘Nobel Prize winner” Sarbiewski taught in the town’s high school.
A magnificent Polish-Lithuanian poet Dionizy Paszkiewicz also studied here. He was a scientist who was concerned with studying the ethnography of Samogitia (more about him in part one). Kražiai is not only a meeting place of Polish-Lithuanian creative elements, it is also a place of glory and sacrifice for ideals of fight “for your and our freedom” which, here in Samogitia, especially motivated to resist Russian annexationists who wanted to deprive the locals of their culture, tradition and religion.
The fight is commemorated by a modest plaque on the walls that surround the local church.
In 1893, past-benedictine baroque church has become a place of massacre of the defendants of faith. During the so called “Kražiai Massacre” czarist Cossacks murdered worshippers who did not want to change the church into a tserkov. 9 people were killed, 50 got injured, 71 were arrested and repressed. 35 people were imprisoned, 4 were sentenced to 10 years of labour. It was one of the last instances of resistance of the locals oppressed by the czarist Russia after the Polish-Lithuanian uprisings. The bloody massacre was mentioned in many courts in Europe. Under their influence, the Czar had to ease his politics towards the Catholic Church. In 1908, Kražiai parish got their church back.
The parish was established in 1413 making it one of the oldest parishes in Lithuania. The “Crase” town is mentioned for the first time in the document of king Mindaugas from 1257. When Vytautas gave a part of Samogitia to the Teutonic Order, Kražiai became the residence of the Order. The town was the capital of one of the routes in the Duchy of Samogitia. Meanwhile, the old capital of was, and for many still is, Varniai in which a magnificent parish church dedicated to Saint Apostles Peter and Paul is towering the city. It is sometimes called a cathedral, it used to be the residence of bishops of Samogitia, most of them were from Giedroyć lineage, their portraits adorn twelve altars. In the crypt under the main altar, 10 bishops are buried, including bishop Kazimierz Pac. The crypt is available for tourists.
The cryps contains two glass graves with the remains of bishops Szymon Michał Giedroyć and Józef Afnulf Giedroyć. At the bedhead there is a post-mortem mask of the prominent descendant of a famous family Jerzy Giedroyc (1906-2000), the creator of the Paris “Culture”, advocate of the independence of Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine. The Lithuanian whose activities and work were devoted to Polish-Lithuanian cause. The second of the three masks, according to the will of Giedroyc, are also located in Lithuania, in the ancestral village of the famous family. The third remained in Paris, where Jerzy Giedroyc lived and worked abroad.
Above the crypt, there is the main baroque altar made by the renown carver Maumo Poloni (1694) decorated with iconography of the scene of the Crucifixion of Christ in which, next to obligatory characters, we can see the silhouettes of patrons of Poland and Lithuania- St. Casimir and St. Stanislav. The writings under the iconography are the proof of Polish-Lithuanian symbiosis. However, the Lithuanian flag hanging above the altar does not leave any doubt that the symbiosis of two elements is a thing of the past. Meanwhile, we can see that their split might manifest in acute cultural schizophrenia that negates and rejects its twin existence. This pathology might in turn result in cultural weightlessness in which one might try to embed a torn and divided, often assimilated but untamed, shared work. The history of many nations aspiring to be “great” proves that one cannot build the foundation of creative glory of the nation on a void.
Translated by Katarzyna Kosińska within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.