Pope Lithuania: Vilnius and its Cathedral
By Lydia O’Kane
Located in the capital’s Old Town, just off Cathedral Square, this imposing building boasts forty works of art dating from the 16th through to 19th centuries, including frescoes and paintings. It’s history is an impressive one being the place where the coronations of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania were celebrated.
Saints and Royalty
Indeed, many prominent people from Lithuanian and Polish history are buried in its crypts, including St Casimir, and the two wives of Sigismund II Augustus, King of Poland: Elisabeth of Habsburg and Barbara Radziwiłł. After a number of fires burnt down previous cathedrals, the present structure was consecrated in 1783 and over the years has undergone a series of renovation projects.
Fall of communism and St John Paul II
During the Soviet era the Cathedral Basilica was turned into a warehouse but in 1989, its status as a cathedral was restored. In 2006 the Cathedral and the belfry underwent a two year renovation and the facades were treated to fresh coat of paint. It was the first renovation since the restoration of Lithuania's independence in 1990.
After the fall of Communism, Polish Pope, St John Paul II made an Apostolic visit to Lithuania which also included a visit to the cathedral where he told the priests gathered, “in your eyes, there must be neither winners nor losers, but rather men and women who need to be helped to leave error behind -- persons to be supported in their efforts to recover from the effects, including the psychological ones, of violence, abuse of power and the violation of human rights".