Vilnius- City, Churches, Castles, and Culture

We arrived home from our week of touring late Thursday evening having absorbed as much about Vilnius and Riga as we could in such a short time.  I took close to 500 photos so have the job of selecting which I think are the best representation of what we saw.  I’ll do a post for each city.

We took the train from Klaipeda to Vilnius on Friday evening–a 5 hour journey.  As  we began with a couple of hours of daylight left, we were hoping to see some of the Lithuanian countryside as we traveled but the train was so filthy outside that it was next to impossible to see out.  Happily, the inside was clean.  Our hotel was just a short walk from the train station and, though so  well-located–also just a block from the entrance to Old Town (not to mention that palace of expensive fast food – McDonald’s)–we will only comment that it did not look as good as the pictures on the website.  Enough said.

Saturday morning we were ready to explore. The Old Town in Vilnius is one of the largest in Europe and an UNESCO World Heritage Site. There is one lovely building after another and more churches in such a small space than I have ever seen.  In our post-Christian times, it is so different to think of a time when God was an all-important fact of every day life.  As we entered through the Gates of Dawn, we immediately saw tourists and townspeople turn toward the gate and cross themselves.  This is because, above the gate is a chapel of The Madonna of Mercy, a picture which is reputed to have miracle-working powers.  It was a custom to have a chapel or religious image in every gateway to safeguard the city from intruders and to protect departing travelers.

Gates of Dawn - Entrance to Old Town Vilnius

Entering Old Town through Gates of Dawn

Dawn Gate from the inside. Through the center window the painting of the Mother of Mercy can be seen.

Chapel of the Mother of Mercy

Just past this chapel is St. Theresa’s Church, known for it’s exceptional ceiling frescoes.

Church of St. Theresa

Ceiling, St. Theresa's

St. Theresa's interior

About a half a block further is the Orthodox Church of the Holy Spirit with an amazing rococo interior of greens and blues.  It was not permitted to photograph the inside so I took a photo of a picture of it in a book which, though not so vivid as the real thing, gives some idea of how it looked.  This church is the final resting place of three saints martyred in the 15th century–Jonas, Eustachius, and Antanas–and their bodies are displayed under that brown canopy you see in the middle of the church.

Church of the Holy Spirit

Interior-Church of the Holy Spirit

Just down the street from this church is the Basilian gate, an ornate Baroque entranceway to The Church of the Holy Trinity and monastery.  Unfortunately, this church is in ruins, having been used as a Tsarist prison .  Some, but not nearly enough, restoration has been attempted.

Basilian Gate

Inside Holy Trinity - notice lower left hand corner where there is nothing but bare concrete.

A few more feet–another church.

Church of St. Casimir --Soviet's used it as a museum of atheism from 1963 to 1991 when it was reconsecrated.

Another couple of blocks away is the Orthodox church of St. Nicholas below.

The Cathedral-Basilica of St. Stanislaus and St. Ladislaus, known simply as Vilnius Cathedral.

Vilnius Cathedral, as you can see, is quite different in architecture from all the other churches with its neo-classical design.  Inside it is plain in comparison and was used as a Soviet art gallery until 1988.  There are many paintings still.  The outstanding feature of this church is the baroque Chapel of St. Casimir, Lithuania’s patron saint, which is quite a spectacular room.

St. Casimir's chapel

Some of the detail around the ceiling dome of the chapel

You may be wondering if there are other buildings in Vilnius besides churches.  Yes, there are–many of them and here are a few street scenes.  It was hard to stop taking pictures.

John and Rachel, along with Chayah and Noah, arrived by car about noon on Saturday and joined us for much of the sight-seeing.  Our visit to Vilnius coincided with a big fair along with traditional song and dance in the town hall square and stalls of local arts and crafts spilling out along the streets.  It was very crowded.

There were many of these things for sale at the craft fair--I did not buy one.

Metal art--very popular here.

Because it was so cold, we could not see much of the traditional clothes worn by the singers.

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On Sunday morning we all squeezed into John’s car and drove about 15 miles west to the lovely Trakai Island Castle.  This is a very well-restored and very picturesque  castle with nice museum displays inside.  You can read about its history on line so I will not go into it here as this is already getting to be quite long.

I think this guy may be Lithuania's Vytautus the Great. Maybe not. Not old enough.

Chuck liked this one. Probably out in the cold too long.

Souvenir shops at Trakai offered the usual.

The ubiquitous amber jewelry.

I have most likely exceeded your attention span–I know I have mine–so I will return tomorrow with a bit more about Vilnius before moving on to Riga.

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