Even though Lithuania was the last country to embrace Christianity in Europe, there are many sacred Catholic sites to visit all around the country. Šiluva is the site of one of the first apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Europe. The world-renowned original Image of Divine Mercy, and its history and origins, are waiting to be discovered in Vilnius. There are Baroque monasteries and miraculous paintings of the Blessed Virgin Mary. A journey through Catholic Lithuania will leave you with a lasting impression. And this is not only because of the spectacular architecture – it is also because this journey will take you to the heart of Lithuania’s complex history. You will experience living pilgrimage, which has been a tradition for hundreds of years. And you can find inner spiritual peace in unique locations, each with their own distinct aura and most located in sites of outstanding natural beauty.
Pilgrims from around the world travel down the narrow streets of the Old Town of Vilnius and through the leafy paths of nearby Antakalnis to discover the origin of the Image of God‘s Divine Mercy. In 1933, Sister Faustina arrived in Vilnius from Poland to join the order of the Sisters of Divine Mercy in Antakalnis. Over the next several years, she experienced many visions of Jesus, and these became the foundation for the devotion to Divine Mercy. Sister Faustina had experienced visions before, but while living in Vilnius she began to tell her spiritual advisor Fr. Mykolas Sopočka about them. With the help of Fr. Sopočka, descriptions of her visions were relayed to the painter Eugenijus Kazimirovskis from Vilnius, who then painted what became the first Image of Divine Mercy. During the decades of Soviet occupation, the painting appeared destined for historical obscurity. But news of the Image of Divine Mercy and copies of this image gradually spread across the world.
Šiluva is a place where visitors find inner spiritual peace, where you can experience a centuries old pilgrimage tradition and immerse yourself in impressive sacred architecture. The red brick Šiluva Church, built in the 18th century, is probably the last standing monument to Late Baroque sacred architecture. The interior has been preserved for over 200 years, and has hardly been altered. The faithful are drawn to the miraculous painting of the Blessed Virgin Mary with the infant Jesus, and the Chapel of the Apparition. The magnificent 44-meter-high building was designed by architect Antanas Vivulskis, who also designed the Three Crosses on the Hill of Three Crosses in Vilnius. At the centre of the chapel, there is an altar on a rock where the apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary was seen in 1608.
Desecrated but never destroyed, set on fire but never burned down, the Hill of Crosses is a potent symbol of faith, hope, and freedom. And for pilgrims, it is another must-visit location in Lithuania. The Hill of Crosses near Šiauliai is a hill covered with thousands of wooden crosses. During the Soviet era, these crosses were removed by the authorities, but locals continuously replaced them. In 1993, Pope John Paul II prayed here, and he often mentioned the sacred site in his homilies and speeches. He later sent a crucifix to Lithuania which was placed on the hill, and today pilgrims begin and end their journeys at this location.
While Condé Nast Traveller includes this site as one of the Top 20 scariest places in the world (and perhaps the authors wouldn‘t want to spend a night on the hill), for locals and visitors alike this is a place of hope and enlightenment, reflecting Lithuania’s historical and cultural traditions. One unique annual cultural tradition is the Feast of the Hill of Crosses, which takes place on the last Sunday of July and attracts thousands of pilgrims.
Located in a beautiful corner of the Lithuanian countryside, Trakai is the country’s former historical capital, and also served as the seat of Grand Duke Vytautas. The city’s history does not only involve the impressive Trakų Castle, but also the Trakai Basilica of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, with its 15th century Gothic and Baroque features. It received the status of Basilica in 2017. This sanctuary remained the spiritual center for the city of Trakai for many centuries – it never closed, and was always used for religious purposes.
Trakai Basilica boasts a miraculous painting of the Mother of God which has been displayed there for 600 years. Currently, 400 milagros (votives) surround the painting – gratitude for miraculous graces which the prayerful have received here for hundreds of years. 300 years ago, this painting was adorned with crowns received from the pope at that time, and is the first painting to be officially crowned in Lithuania. The painting arrived in Trakai as a gift from the Byzantine Emperor on the occasion of the baptism of the ruler Vytautas the Great. As time passed, the painting was repainted by another artist. Yet it still remained revered by residents of Trakai and its surrounding regions, and not only by Catholics, but also by members of local Orthodox and Muslim communities.
Today, many people of faith from Lithuania and other countries visit the Basilica. Pilgrims gather for the annual Feast of the Nativity of Our Lady which takes place on August 15th and September 8th. The pilgrimage is a 30 km journey from the Gate of Dawn in Vilnius to the Basilica in Trakai.
Lithuanian monasteries tell a variety of stories. In some, you will find impressive architectural structures or historic books written by monks. In others, monks and nuns of various orders, clad in their habits, can be seen in their centuries-old cells. They devote their time to prayer, receiving pilgrims, and working with local communities. Visitors can experience these stories and the surrounding wonders of nature where the monks and nuns live to this day.