Dawn of the Martyrs

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June 26th 2017
Published: July 10th 2017
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Hello my fellow travellers!

This morning after we all woke up we had some more home grown mint tea and waffles with home grown strawberry jam before we went to the bus stop. Milda's brother Ignacius came with us, doing his best to pedal an adult size bike and doing a good job despite his young age. We all laughed at his shenanigans and it was a pleasant walk to the bus, we chatted in a relaxed way.

Livija was going to her campus first to then go and meet her mother coming in from Kaunas to meet her for the day. I myself had decided to go to a nature area recommended to me yesterday by Roberta, the area is called Pūčkorių Atodanga which sounds very funny to me since the first part of that name means idiot in Swedish.

After we all said our goodbyes I jumped on the bus to Pūčkorių Atodanga and upon arriving there and going on the boardwalk built through part of the area I understood why it was recommended. The boardwalk area grants a beautiful view down into the valley below.

I stayed here quite a long time, just enjoying the surroundings and I felt no rush at all. Vilnius historic centre is rather small and I saw most of it yesterday and the parts I had left I would easily manage to visit today so I enjoyed my time of serenity.

Once I felt ample refreshed I hopped on the bus again and made my way to Aušros Vartai, it means the gates of dawn, a beautiful name. It's a city gate built as part of the city's fortifications between 1503 and 1522. It is the only one of the city's nine original gates that still remain, today it houses the small chapel.

Next to the gate lies the church Šv. Teresės Bažnyčia from 1650 which is one of the best examples of Baroque architecture in Vilnius, I especially found it's ceiling to be very magnificent.

Just a few steps away lies one of the true religious treasures of of Vilnius, the cathedral and monastery Šv. Dvasios Vienuolyno Katedra, cathedral itself is nice but not grand, however it houses the three Vilnius martyrs, Saint Anthony, Saint John and Saint Eustathius. They were part of the Muscovite missionaries that had been assigned to the court of Algirdas, the pagan Grand Duke of Lithuania to serve his Orthodox Christian wife Maria of Vitebsk. However, they were strictly forbidden to preach outside of the sphere of the princess and were not allowed to seek converts.

Saint Anthony and Saint John were brothers that had not originally been part of the missionary but had been converted to Christianity by Maria's spiritual father Nestar. They were caught while preaching to others and imprisoned but refused to recant their faith and because of that they were tortured and eventually executed by being hanged from an oak. Saint Anthony was hung on April 14th 1347 and Saint John on April 24th. Their death inspired their cousin, Kruglec, to convert to Christianity as well and take the name Eustathius, as a result he was hung from the very same tree on December 13th.

Their martyrdom sparked a wave of conversions throughout Lithuania as people were impressed by their devotion and sacrifice. For a long time the saints lay buried in a cellar but in 1826 they were brought to light and are now available for everyone to see in the centre of the church. During World War I the saints was moved to Moscow for safety and they were returned in 1946 after World War II ended.

I decided to grab a bit to eat after visiting these holy sights and I managed to find a restaurant serving the famous cepelinai, zeppelins, and they were really delicious, but also very heavy, I expect they'll last me until tomorrow morning.

Another church with a bit of interesting history that I took a peek at was the Šv. Kazimiero Bažnyčia. Construction of it began in 1604 which makes it the oldest Baroque church in Vilnius, the first cornerstone was dragged in place by 700 people! What is really fascinating though is that after World War II it was turned into a museum of Atheism! In 1991 it was however returned to the Jesuits who originally built it.

Besides those churches I visited several other holy places such as Šv. Nikolajaus Cerkvė and Šv. Kankinės Paraskevės Cerkvė, two orthodox churches. The latter of them was built on top of an old pagan temple dedicated to the pagan god Ragutis. It was built at the request of Maria of Vitebsk and she was also buried there in 1346. Peter the Great prayed here for victory over the Swedish and once he had defeated them he gave some of the Swedish conquered flags to the church.

I also took a look at the massive Šv. Jono Krikštytojo ir Šv. Jono Apaštalo Bažnyčia which was nice, but the one church that really stood out for me was Šv. Onos Bažnyčia which is a genuine landmark in Vilnius and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was built between 1495 and 1500 and is one of the best examples of Gothic architecture in Lithuania. It is part of the larger Šv. Pranciškaus Asyžiečio and the entire complex is an absolute wonder to behold, it's said to have entranced Napoleon himself.

Close to it is another really gorgeous holy place, the large cathedral Dievo Motinos Ėmimo į Dangų Katedra, which honestly looks more like a castle than a cathedral, at least from the outside.

I ended my little tour of Vilnius with a stroll in the beautiful park Sereikiškių Parko Bernardinų Sodas and a visit to Lietuvos Didžiosios Kunigaikštystės Valdovų Rūmai the massive palace that once housed the Grand Dukes of Lithuania but that is now a national museum. I also returned to the main cathedral, Šv. Stanislovo ir Šv. Vladislovo Arkikatedra Bazilika since it was hard to see it properly yesterday with the massive crowd.

The final thing for the day that I tried to visit was Genocido Aukų Muziejus, a museum dedicated to the victims of genocide, but unfortunately it was closed for the whole day.

With that I wrapped up my time in the capital city and went to meet with my new host Vilija, a nice woman living with her cat Ninja in a rustic apartment. She cooked an evening meal for us which we enjoyed with some white wine and interesting political discussions. I learned a lot about Lithuanian politics, both current and historic and it was a great evening.

Tomorrow I will continue to Siauliai where I will visit Kryžių Kalnas, a hill covered in a hundred thousand crosses, I look forward to it after what I've been told by my hosts here. I think it will mark a great way to end my time in Lithuania.

Until tomorrow I wish you all peace and happy travels!

Additional photos below
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11th July 2017
 Šv. Onos Bažnyčia

Totally different view of Vilnius
We were in Vilnius last year. It is fun to see how two people can visit the same city and come away with such totally different sites that have been visited. /Ake
11th July 2017
 Šv. Onos Bažnyčia

Totally different view of Vilnius
Very true. :)

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