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Diocese of Vilna

Vilna, the capital of Lithuania, is situated at the junction of the Rivers Vileika and Vilja

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Vilna, Diocese of (VILNENSIS)., Vilna, the capital of Lithuania, is situated at the junction of the Rivers Vileika and Vilja; population 165,000 in 1910. Its foundation is traced back to the twelfth, and even, by Polish writers, to the tenth century; but its historical origins must be referred to the year 1323, when Giedymin, Grand Prince of Lithuania, set up his capital there, wrote a letter to John XXII, and made treaty with the Brethren of the Sword. The German Crusaders partly devastated the city in 1383. When the Grand Prince Jagiello, in 1383, received baptism and married Hedwige, Queen of Poland, taking the name of Wladislaus II, and uniting Poland with’ Lithuania, the religious and political prosperity of Vilna began. In 1577 it became the seat of a flourishing academy which gained a great literary reputation, especially under the Jesuits. In the later half of the seventeenth century and the earlier of the eighteenth it suffered much from war, fire, and pestilence. United with Russia in 1794, it ceased to be the capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The Polish insurrection of 1831 and 1863 exposed it to cruel reprisals; from 1870 it has developed industrially and commercially.

Bishops.—The Diocese of Vilna owes its foundation to Wladislaus II Jagiello (1383-1434), who was active in propagating Catholicism in Lithuania. In 1387 Jagiello sent Dobrogost, Bishop of Posen, as ambassador to Urban VI (1378-87) to petition for the erection of an episcopal see at Vilna and the appointment of Andrew Wasilon (then Bishop of Ceretenska) to fill it. This was granted and the foundation of a collegiate church of ten canons authorized. Under Wasilon’s rule, the Churches of St. John, St. Martin, and St. Anne were built at Vilna. Upon his death, in 1398, he was succeeded by the Franciscan James Plichta (1398-1407), in whose time the cathedral was burnt down. Among his successors were: Peter of Kustynia (1414-21), whom Martin V invested with full powers to bring back the Orthodox of Lithuania to the bosom of the Catholic Church; Matthias of Trok (1421-53), a Lithuanian, who sent representatives to the Council of Basle and set up the Inquisition to combat the Hussites, founded many churches and strenuously defended the rights and privileges of the Lithuanians. Under John Losowicz (1467-81) many Ruthenians were converted to Catholicism and the Franciscans (Bernardines) were established at Vilna. Albert Tabor, a Lithuanian, invited the Dominicans to Vilna and entrusted to them the Church of the Holy Spirit; Albert Radziwill (1508-19) died in the odor of sanctity; John the Lithuanian (1519-37) held the first diocesan synod at Vilna in 1526; Prince Paul Holszanski (1534-55) restored his cathedral in the Gothic style and held a synod in 1555; Valerian Protasewicz Suszkowski (1556-80) had to contend for the celibacy of the clergy and the use of Latin in the Liturgy; he brought the Jesuits, among whom was Peter Skarga, to Vilna.

Prince George Radziwill (1581-91) fostered the Academy of Vilna, founded a seminary, under the direction of the Jesuits, introduced the regulations of the Council of Trent, and, having been made a cardinal, was transferred to the Diocese of Cracow in 1591. The chapter then entrusted the administration of the diocese to the suffragan bishop, Ciprian. At his death, in 1594, the clergy were divided into factions on the choice of a successor, until Sigismund III nominated Benedict Woina (1600-15), who exerted himself efficaciously for the canonization of St. Casimir of Poland, in whose honor the first stone of a church was laid at Vilna in 1604. He succeeded in his efforts to have St. Casimir regarded as patron of Lithuania. His successor, Eustachius Wollowicz (1616-30), founded hospitals, invited the Canons Regular of the Lateran to Vilna, and energetically combated the Protestants and the Orthodox. Abram Wojna (1631-49) introduced the Fatebene Brethren and strenuously opposed Calvinism. George Tyszkiewicz (1650-6) annexed the whole of Courland to his diocese. Alexander Sapieha (1666-71) founded the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul, taking St. Peter’s for his model. The diocese then comprised 25 deaneries with 410 churches. Constantius Casimir Brzostowski (1687-1722) brought the Piarists to Vilna and encouraged the development of the religious orders. In the episcopate of Michael Zienkowicz (1730-62) there arose sad conflicts between the Jesuits and the Piarists, resulting in the closing of the Piarist schools. Prince James Massalski (1762-94) encouraged the reform of the clergy, and devoted his immense fortune to the churches of his diocese.

After the annexation of Lithuania by Russia, the Diocese of Vilna no longer enjoyed freedom of relations with the Holy See. In 1795 the chapter nominated David Pilchowski vicar in spiritualibus. Livonia was added to the diocese, and John Nepomucene Kossakowski (1798-1808) was appointed bishop. He did much for the prosperity of the seminary. After his death the chapter became involved in a conflict with Siestrzencewicz, the Catholic Metropolitan of St. Petersburg, who usurped rights exclusively belonging to the Holy See. Siestrzencewicz forced upon the chapter, as administrator of the diocese, Geronimo Strojonowski (1808-15), upon whose death he arrogated to himself the government of the diocese with the title of Primate of Lithuania. In 1827, after Siestrzencewicz’s death, the vicar capitular, Milucki, ruled the diocese for a short time. In 1828 Andreas Klagiewicz was appointed administrator; he was sent to the interior of Russia during the Polish insurrection of 1831, and returned to Vilna in 1832, was preconized Bishop of Vilna in 1839, and took possession of the see on June 28, 1841. He died the same year, after witnessing the ruin of the Ruthenian Uniat Church in his diocese and a most ferocious persecution of Catholicism. The chapter elected John Cywinski as vicar suffragan; he had the grief of seeing the University of Vilna closed, the clergy and churches of his diocese completely despoiled of their property, and died on November 17, 1846. In 1848 he was succeeded by Wenceslaus Zylinski, who was transferred in 1856 to the metropolitan See of Mohilev, but continued to govern his former diocese until 1858. Adam Stanislaus Krasinski was expelled from the diocese in consequence of the Polish insurrection, but nevertheless continued to govern the diocese until 1883, when he withdrew to Cracow. His successor, Charles Hryniewcki, was exiled to Jaroslav after two years of the episcopate, and in 1890 abdicated and withdrew to Galicia. During his exile Ludovic Zdanowicz governed the diocese as vicar patriarchal. In 1890 Anthony Francis Audziewicz, a canon of St. Peters-burg and a learned theologian, was appointed Bishop of Vilna. He died in 1895; the diocese was then governed by Louis Zdanowicz, titular Bishop of Dionysias. In 1897 Canon Stephen Alexander Zwerowicz succeeded, and was transferred in 1902 to the See of Sandomir. His place was taken by Baron Edward Ropp, who set about organizing the Catholic movement in the diocese, thereby incurring the hostility of the Russian Government. Bishop Ropp having been banished to Pskov, the diocese was entrusted to Casimir Nicholas Michalkiewicz as administrator Apostolic.

The bishops of Vilna, presiding over a vast diocese and being senators of Lithuania, could not give all their attention to the spiritual necessities of their flock; hence, from the fifteenth century they had coadjutors or suffragans. Many of these, particularly in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, were titular bishops of Methone (Peloponnesus). Among the most famous may be mentioned George Casimir Ancuta (d. 1737), author of “Jus plenum religionis catholicae in regno Poloniae”, showing that the Protestants and Orthodox had not the same rights as the Catholics. Beginning from the seventeenth century there were also suffragans for Belorusi. In 1798 Pius VI recognized the ancient See of Brest as suffragan of Vilna. So also the ancient Diocese of Livonia, suppressed in 1797, had become suffragan to Vilna, and in 1798 had for its first bishop Adam Kossiafkowski (d. 1828); in 1848, however, it was annexed to the Diocese of Samogitia or Kovno.

SYNODS.—The flourishing Catholic life of the Diocese of Vilna is attested by the large number of synods held there. The first of these was in 1502, under Bishop Tabor. Then followed the synods of 1526, for the reform of manners and the organization of the parochial schools; those of 1528, to collect funds for the restoration of the cathedral; of 1555, to oppose the spread of Lutheranism; of 1582; of 1607, which made many regulations for the administration of the sacraments and the discipline of the clergy; of 1630, which regulated the administration of ecclesiastical property; of 1654, to aid the state with new imposts; of 1669, with its disciplinary regulations; of 1685, with ordinances relating to the administration of the sacraments and the life of the clergy; of 1744, with regulations in regard to the catechism, mixed marriages, and spiritual exercises. After the synod of 1744, under Bishop Michael Zienkowicz, no others were held, but the bishops addressed to their clergy pastoral letters, some of them of notable import.

Churches.—The diocese possesses splendid churches and venerable sanctuaries. Of the former the largest and most beautiful are at Vilna, although many, violently wrested from the Catholics, have become Russian Orthodox churches. The cathedral, dedicated to the Blessed Trinity, St. Stanislaus, and St. Wladislaus, was erected in virtue of a Bull of March 12, 1387. Burned down in 1399, it was rebuilt in the Gothic style in 1399 by Grand Duke Witold. Again destroyed in 1531 and 1662, its restoration was begun in 1769 and finished in 1801. It contains splendid chapels, especially those of St. Casimir and of the Immaculate Conception. Other important churches are those of the Holy Cross, founded in the fourteenth century on the spot where, in 1366, fourteen Francis-cans were martyred by the pagans; the Church of St. Martin, founded by Jagiello in 1380 on the ruins of an ancient pagan temple; St. Anne; founded for the Germans by Anna, the consort of Witold, in 1392; St. John the Evangelist, founded in 1386 and enriched with privileges by Leo X; Corpus Domini, founded by the Archconfraternity of the Blessed Sacrament in 1573; and the Church of the Guardian Angels. To these must be added the numerous churches of the religious orders, which flourished in Lithuania, but of which few traces remain. The Dominicans, who in the fifteenth century had a church dedicated to the Holy Spirit, built in 1679-88 another, which in 1844 was given up by them and transformed into a parish church. The Bernardines undertook at Vilna, in 1469, the construction of a wooden church, rebuilt in stone in 1500; it was burnt down in 1794 and restored in 1900. This order was forced to leave the diocese in 1864. The Church of Sts. Peter and Paul was given to the Lateran Canons in 1638; they abandoned it in 1864. St. Casimir, with the annexed Jesuit college, founded in 1604, was turned into an Orthodox church in 1832. St. Ignatius Loyola, founded by the Jesuits in 1622, is now the club of the officials. The Carmelite Church of St. Teresa has a miraculous image of the Madonna. The Augustinians, Trinitarians, Brigittines, Carmelite Sisters, Piarists, Visitandines, and others also had churches, to which must be added numerous chapels. After the Polish Revolutions of 1863, the diocese saw all its religious violently expelled. The monasteries were converted into barracks, the churches given to the Orthodox or the secular clergy, the libraries dispersed, the possessions of the religious confiscated. In 1910 there remained only one monastery of Benedictine Sisters (connected with the Church of St. Catherine at Vilna) with six septuagenarian nuns, a Bernardine convent at Slonim with four septuagenarian nuns, a Franciscan monastery at Grodno with a single friar, and, in the same city, a convent of Brigittine Sisters with two religious. The efforts made since 1905 by the various orders to reestablish themselves in the diocese have been fruitless.

Statistics.—The Diocese of Vilna contains 1,420,000 faithful distributed among 23 rural deaneries as follows: Bialystok, 20 parishes and stations, 101,-761 souls; Bielsk, 20 parishes, 66,135 souls; Brest, 3 parishes, 14,212 souls; Dzisna, 15 parishes, 66,536 souls; Giedrojce, 13 parishes, 58,813 souls; Grodno, 20 parishes, 58,116 souls; Kobryn, 2 parishes, 7925 souls; Lida, 14 parishes, 65,100 souls; Merecz, 20 parishes, 82,948 souls; Nadwilejski, 8 parishes, 41,053 souls; Oszmiana, 11 parishes, 61,032 souls; Prwjany, 7 parishes, 11,648 souls; Radun, 15 parishes, 83,451 souls; Slonim, 7 parishes, 30,337 souls; Sokolka, 14 parishes, 75,709 souls; Swienciang, 19 parishes, 93,716 souls; Swir, 11 parishes, 48,266 souls; Troki, 20 parishes, 88,856 souls; Vilna (city), 30 churches and chapels, 141,104 souls; Vilna (district) 9 parishes, 52,690 souls; Wilejka, 10 parishes, 35,783 souls; Wiszniew, 15 parishes, 83,900 souls; Wolkowysk, 16 parishes, 58,825 souls. Besides the cathedral parish the city of Vilna contains those of St. John Baptist, the Holy Spirit, St. Teresa, Sts. Philip and James, St. Raphael the Archangel, St. Francis of Assisi, All Saints, the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul. The Catholic population of the city is 96,000 souls. Dependent upon the parish of St. Teresa is the chapel of the miraculous image of Our Lady of Ostrobrama the center of many pilgrimages in Lithuania, and venerated also by the Orthodox. The chapel containing the miraculous image stands upon an arch, and the street which passes under this arch is occupied at all hours of the day by a crowd of prostrate suppliants; no one passing under the arch—not even the Hebrews—will neglect to uncover the head in token of reverence.

The secular clergy number about 440 priests. The cathedral chapter comprises 5 prelates and 3 canons. The secular clergy are educated in the seminary which has 15 professors and 160 students. Its foundation dates from 1582; it was closed in 1862; reopened in 1872, and had but two students, but their number gradually increased. At Brest there was a petit seminaire, which was closed in 1830; the seminary at Bialystok was closed in 1842. The clergy has always exerted, and still exerts, a beneficial influence upon popular education. At the beginning of the nineteenth century twenty-five parochial elementary schools were in operation at Vilna; schools and colleges were conducted by the Jesuits, the Uniat Basilians, the Piarists, and other religious orders. The monastic libraries were centers of culture. As late as the seventeenth century there were 101 monasteries in Lithuania. The library of the Missionaries of Vilna contained 8284 volumes; that of the Piarists, 7000; that of the Bernardines, 4142. The University of Vilna possessed 20,000 volumes of theology, part of which were given to the Theological Academy of St. Petersburg, to the University of Kiev, and to the Public Library of Vilna.

In consequence of the fierce persecution stirred up against Catholicism, the scientific glory of the Diocese of Vilna became obscured; but the Faith remained firmly rooted in the hearts of the people. Vilna is perhaps the most devout city in the Russian Empire, and its piety is all the more admirable because the paucity of secular clergy and the complete lack of religious orders render it difficult for the people to fulfill their religious duties. Of late years, however, the bitter quarrels between the Polish and Lithuanian Nationalists led to divisions in the Catholic camp. The Lithuanian clergy demand that in all the churches of the diocese Lithuanian shall be equally considered with Polish in religious instruction and in supplementary devotions. A portion of the Polish clergy are opposed to these claims. But wise measures taken by the ecclesiastical authorities have allayed the animosity, and opportune concessions to the Lithuanians have, at least in appearance, removed the causes of discord.


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