• July 14, 2017
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90 years passed since the coronation of the painting of Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn

The renovation of the Chapel of the Gate of Dawn and St Teresa church, which belong to the most valuable heritage sites in Lithuania, will start next year. The Department for Cultural Heritage has approved the work plan and the Ministry of Culture has approved financial support from the EU structural funds. Renovation works will last until 2020.

The coronation of the painting of the Holy Virgin from the Gate of Dawn took place in Vilnius on the 2nd of July 1927. It was the Archbishop of Vilnius Romuald Jałbrzykowski who submitted the letter to Pope Pius XI, asking for permission for the coronation of the painting. It was emphasised in the letter that the people received a great number of graces thanks to a prayer in front of the painting. The visit in 1920 of Achille Ratti, who was the Apostolic Nuncio in Poland at that time and then became Pope Pius XI, was also mentioned in the letter. He visited the Gate of Dawn and celebrated the Holy Mass there. On the occasion of the coronation of the painting that was planned for July 1927, in April 1927, the brochure “The story of the miraculous image of the Virgin Mary of Mercy at the Gate of Dawn in Vilnius” was published in Vilnius. The materials for the brochure were collected by father Adam Kuleszo.

Today we would like to share the fragments of this unique publication with our readers. The publication becomes from the collection of famous Vilnius journalists and publicists late Halina Jotkiałło and Jerzy Surwiło.

“Among the places and thrones of Mary’s graces the most famous and magnificent are in Poland in Jasna Góra Monastery in Częstochowa and at the Gate of Dawn in Vilnius. How much grace the Holy Mother obtains for those, who at the painting of Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn ask her for help, give votive offerings, which in great numbers decorate the painting and the altar at the Chapel of the Gate of Dawn.

The history of the first painting of Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn dates back to the beginning of the 16th century. On the 2nd of October 1503, during the reign of King Alexander the Jagiellon, whose favourite capital was Vilnius, the construction of defensive walls surrounding the city was finished. In the Middle Ages, it was a custom to place the images of the saints on the gates in towns. The image of the Blessed Virgin Mary was place over the Miednicka Gate, which is also known as the Gate of Dawn. It was not the same icon, which is venerated at the Chapel of the Gate of Dawn today and which is known for numerous graces. The current picture was made at the request of the Vilnius municipality in the second half of the 16th century by one of artist who lived in Vilnius, but whose name is unknown. He was also the author of the painting of the Lord Jesus, called “Salvatore Mundi” (“the Saviour of the World”). Both images were hung from both sides of the Gate of Dawn in window frames. The painting of the Blessed Virgin was hung from the city, so from the northern side, the image of the Lord Jesus – from the southern side, so in the place, where the eagle, the national emblem, symbolizing the return of the city to the free and independent homeland, hangs now. (Today, in the place of the eagle, there is a painting of Jesus – editorial note).

Nowhere in the neighbouring countries was there such a great respect for the name Marja (Mary) as in Poland, where by the end of the seventeenth century because of the worship for the Blessed Virgin, no one was dare enough to give the name Marja to a child, instead the names Marjanna or Maryna were chosen (…).

Originally the painting of Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn was not placed in a chapel, but was recessed into a wall and covered with shutters when the weather was bad. In front of the picture there was a small wooden gallery. One could go there by narrow stairs, located near the wall. It was only in 1654, when the Carmelites, who in 1621 moved into the monastery, and in 1626 were given the church of St Theresa, got permission from the municipal authorities for having the painting in their possession. They took it from the gate to the church and put it in the first chapel to the right of the huge altar. At the same time, they started collecting money for building the chapel above the Gate of Dawn. The generous donations given by numerous benefactors made the construction of a beautiful wooden chapel possible in a relatively short period of time. The chapel was magnificently decorated with paintings and relevant inscriptions.

The solemn ceremony of transferring the painting took place one Sunday in 1671, with the participation of the Chapter, the Tribunal, the Magistrate and people of all social strata headed by the Vilnius bishop Aleksander Sapieha. After another fire in 1715, the wooden chapel burned down, but the painting was miraculously saved. The Carmelites decided to erect a building that is more resistant to damages.

When enough funds were raised, a new chapel was added to the old gate. It has been preserved to this day. During the following fires of Vilnius in 1748 and 1749, and even the fire in 1760, when the church of the Carmelites was destroyed, the Chapel at the Gate of Dawn was preserved. Also in 1812, when the Napoleonic troops ruined the Church of St Theresa, the chapel was not destroyed. In 1829, a glazed gallery covered by a roof was built just in front of the chapel on the left side of the street. At the top, above the windows, on the outside wall of the chapel, in the past there was an inscription in Polish composed of brass and gilded letters: “Mother of Mercy! Beneath your compassion, we take refuge!”

In 1865, the Russian government, persecuting everything which was Polish, ordered to get rid of this inscription. It was replaced by the inscription in Latin, which was preserved to this day. It should be mentioned that in Carmelites’ day the women could not enter the chapel at all, and as it comes to men, not all of them could go there and not at any time. This situation is explained by the fact that the entrance to the chapel led through the monastery, which was not accessible to women because of the monastic enclosure and men could not go there at any time (…).”

The Carmelites carefully recorded the graces and miracles, which the people experienced thanks to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Gate of Dawn. In 1761, the scholarly and godly definitor of the Discarded Carmelites Father Hilarion from St Gregory described and published them in the book: “The account of the miraculous image of the Blessed Virgin Mary”. The author says that the people told about them under oath. We may read there that, among other things, there was a miracle in 1671, when a two-month-old child fell out of the window on the second floor on the cobblestone. The child didn’t give the sign of life. The desperate parents carried the child to the miraculous painting and asked the Virgin Mary for help with the living faith that their request for healing the child would be heard. They were not disappointed. On the second day after the accident, the child was completely healthy, without any signs of bruisings on the body. Grateful parents hung a plate with the picture of the miracle in the chapel. The plate burnt down in a fire on the 26th of May 1715.

In 1708, the Moscow army flooded into the eastern borders of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, they occupied Vilnius too. One of the greedy Russian soldiers sneaked to the Chapel of the Gate of Dawn to rob a silver robe. He barely touched the silver robe when the unknown power beat him away with such a force that he struck the wall and turned into a pulp. The sight of this miracle frightened the Moscow army to such extent that they started venerating the painting and when being on watch at the gate the soldiers were bowing down in front of it they did not even dare to smoke (…).”

These are just some of the miracles up to 1761 that were preserved in the Carmelite’s chronicles. It remains a mystery to this day why the image, which was already famous in the seventeenth century, was crowned only in the twentieth century..

The comments on this subject have been shared by the Vilnius historian Paweł Giedrojć who was talking with Kurier Wileński.

– The image of Our Lady of Trokai, the patron saint of Lithuania, was crowned in 1718, one year after the coronation of the icon of Our Lady of Częstochowa. Perhaps in the 18th century there were not enough time for the coronation of the image of Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn, or maybe there was simply no initiative to do so. In 1795, after the last partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Lithuania was entirely annexed to Russia, so it was not possible to even think about the coronation of the image by the Catholic Church. In the nineteenth century, the tsarist authorities were not interested in it. It is worth pointing out, however, that this painting is venerated by both the Catholics and Orthodox. In 1993, Pope John Paul II recited the rosary prayer before the image of Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn, and four years later Alexei II, the patriarch of Moscow and all Russia, prayed also if front of this painting,” emphasized the historian.

In a week, we will talk about the celebrations of coronation of the painting with the participation of over 150,000 faithful. There were also the representatives of the highest state authorities with Marshal Józef Piłsudski and President Ignacy Mościcki.

The parish priest, the prelate of the parish of St Theresa, the rector of the Chapel of the Gate of Dawn Kęstutis Łatoža, will talk about the importance of coronation, about the golden crown and regalia that mysteriously disappeared during the Second World War.

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

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