M. Jurgaičio str. 2, Šiluva
8 am – 8 pm (May-September)
8 am – 4 pm (October-April)
The church founded by Petras Simonas Gedgaudas in 1457 did not survive as a result of the Reformation spreading over Šiluva in the 16th century. The land and property of the church were taken away, the church itself was closed and demolished. Only the title of the church, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, given by the founder himself, remained due to its popularity.
After the Apparition of Virgin Mary in 1608 founding documents of the first church and documents proving the land belonged to the Catholics were miraculously found. Based on them in 1622 a court case was finally won after going on for fifteen years and Šiluva was given back to the Catholics.
In 1623-1624 a new small wooden church was built. In 1941, when the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary was revived and crowds of people started taking part in it, a larger cross-shaped wooden church was built.
When people still could not fit in, a brick church, that still stands today, was built and consecrated on September 8th, 1786. In 1974 Pope Paul VI gave the church the same title as the minor basilica, which shows its importance.
Architecture and interior
The Church of Šiluva has two towers and it stands out from other sanctuaries of the time with its red unplastered brick walls. Unfortunately, the architect of the church is unknown.
Yet, the author of the interior design, artist Tomas Podgaiskis is well known. He had worked on this project for 10 years, and during those years he created a gorgeous integral ensemble of seven altars, pulpit, baptistery and organs. The inside decor has remained almost unchanged for more than two centuries.
Interior plan of the Basilica:
1 – The High altar with painting of Mother of God and Child
2 – Altar of the Holy Family
3 – Altar of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
4 – Altar of Saint Alois (ex-altar of Saint Apostles Peter and Paul)
5 – Altar of Saint Francis (ex-altar of Saint Judas Thaddaeus)
6 – Altar of Saint Anne
7 – Altar of the Guardian Angel (ex-altar of Saint John of Nepomuk)
8 – Pulpit
9 – Baptistery
10 – Organs
11 – Chapel of the Health of the Sick
12 – Sacristy
The High Altar of Virgin Mary
On the top of the altar – God the Father, surrounded by angels and “Heaven and Earth is a footstool for his feet.”
Lower – Apostle Peter, the first Pope, to whom Jesus said “from now you will fish people” and “you are a rock onto which I will build my church”. This is symbolized by fishing nets, a church building and keys. Peter is holding the Bible in his hands, by his side there is a rooster, reminding that Peter had denied Jesus three times.
Then your eyes shift towards the miraculous painting of the Mother of God and Child. Read more about it…
On the sides of the miraculous painting of Šiluva there stand Saint Joseph, Mary’s fiancée, and Saint Joachim, her father. These two men were the closest witnesses and patrons of her life.
And then we see the tabernacle – the holiest place in the church where the Holy Sacrament is preserved. Above there is a pelican with a crown of thorns – these birds are known to cut their own chest open and feed their children with blood to save them. This is a symbol of Christ feeding us his Body and Blood. On the left of the tabernacle is a sculpture of the Pope and on the right – a sculpture of the High Priest of Israel; angels near them are holding symbols of the Eucharist – grapes and wheat.
Traditionally the title of the church is portrayed in the high altar. Here we see the deepest meaning of the Birth of Virgin Mary – to give birth to the Savior, through whom the Church is born.
Front Side Altars
ALTAR OF THE HOLY FAMILY (on the left nave, at the front)
At the top of the altar we see Joseph from the Old Testament, sold to slavery by his brothers for 20 silver coins. After he became the ruler of Egypt and the famine started, his brothers were coming to him to buy wheat and kneel and bow in front of him.
Lower, under the canopy – the engagement of Virgin Mary and Joseph blessed by an Old Testament priest and led by joyful angels.
A scene is portrayed in the painting when Mary and Joseph after three days of searching find Jesus in the temple listening to teachers of the Holy Scripture and asking questions.
On both sides of the painting – the closest women of Mary’s family. On the left there is Saint Elizabeth, wife of the priest Zachary, who could not bear children for a long time. Behind her is her son Saint John the Baptist, who said “This is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (Jn 1,29) at the river Jordan while pointing at Jesus.
On the right of the altar with an open book is Saint Anne, the mother of Mary, who also could not bear children for a long time, but eventually blessed by the Lord she gave birth to the Virgin Mary. Behind Saint Anne there stands King David with a harp, who worshipped God with his psalms and proclaimed the coming of the Messiah.
ALTAR OF THE HEART OF JESUS (on the right nave, at the front)
On the top of the altar we see the Ecce Homo storyline – whipped and coat-wrapped Jesus is brought to Pontius Pilate which says “behold the man”. But the Jews deceitfully accused him of revolting against the governor and demanded for his death.
Lower, under the canopy – the scene of the arrest. A sculpture called Jesus Nazarene depicting Jesus with his hands tied and crossed on his chest. Angels surrounding him show deep sorrow.
Even lower – the title painting of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Statues standing on both sides of it represent people who converted through him.
On the left is a church father, hermit Saint Jerome depicted with a book, a skull, a rock and a lion nearby, who translated the Bible from Greek and Hebrew to Latin. Behind him with a spear – Saint Longinus, the Roman centurion who stabbed Jesus’ side and after His death proclaimed “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Mt 27, 54).
On the right side of the painting there stands Saint Augustine (354-430) with a mitre and a pastoral. He is one of the most influential theologians of the Catholic Church, philosopher and teacher, known for “Confessions” he wrote around 400 AD. Behind Saint Augustine, with a sword and a book there stands apostle Paul, who was called Saul before his conversion. After his conversion he proclaimed the Gospel in pagan lands.
Side Column Altars
THE ALTAR OF SAINT ALOYSIUS (on the left nave, at the front column)
At the top of the altar the statue of St. Casimir, the Lithuanian King and youth guardian is placed. Above Casimir’s head, angels hold the sign of chastity – ever-blooming rose wreath and a sceptre as a royal sign. St. Casimir holds the only sign of salvation and strength in his hands, i.e. the Cross of Christ.
The painting depicts St. Aloysius (1568–1591), who amid temptations took strength from the Cross of Christ. Being still young, he gave up his rights as a prince heir and joined the Society of Jesus.
On the left there stands the Apostle Andrew, the brother of the Apostle Peter, with his hand embracing the tree on which he died crucified for faith.
On the right Evangelist John is depicted, the witness of the first miracles of Jesus, and the last remaining at the cross; depicted with a chalice of the Holy Mass, since idolaters attempted to poison him with wine, but he blessed it, drank it and survived.
On the other side, on the right, we see the Evangelist John, with the book of Gospel in his left hand and a cup in his right hand; it is said that the idolaters wanted to kill John by poisoning wine, but he blessed it by making the sign of the cross, swallowed it and remained alive. John was the witness of the first miracles of Jesus, held his head at Master’s chest during the Last Supper, the only one who followed Jesus to Golgotha with a group of women, and, eventually to him dying Jesus trusted his Mother.
According to the Šiluva description which dates to 1796, we learn that this altar was dedicated to the apostles Peter and Paul by its designer.
THE ALTAR OF SAINT FRANCIS (right nave, at the middle column)
At the top of this altar, we find St. Anthony of Padua (1195-1231) who is truly admired in Lithuania. In prayer, Mary appeared to him with Baby Jesus in her hands. Therefore, above it we see a very rare depiction in the Lithuanian religious art: Mary with her hands spread out on the cloud, and the Franciscan monk standing below and holding the Child with his both hands.
Now this altar contains the painting of St. Francis (1182-1226). He embraces the body of Jesus taken from the cross, in this way uniting mysteriously in his suffering, and at the same time allows to be embraced by Jesus, thus becoming his instrument on Earth. Francis is famous for his conversion story, the founding of the Franciscan Order, manifestations, i.e. the signs of Christ.
The figure on the left is the Apostle Thomas, questioning Christ’s resurrection from the dead; His raised finger signifies him trying to touch the wound of Christ, after that he believed and cried “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).
On the right there is the Apostle Simon, holding a saw in his left hand, the instrument of his martyrdom and death when proclaiming the Word of God in Persia and Babylon.
In the description of the church inventory of 1843 we find that there used to exist a painting depicting St. Jude Thaddaeus.
THE ALTAR OF SAINT JOHN AND SAINT ANNE (left nave, at the back column)
At the top of the altar John the Baptist’s beheading scene is depicted, when King Herod, charmed by the daughter of an illegitimate wife’s dance, promised to grant her anything she would ask for, and she, after consulting her mom, asked the head of John the Baptist.
In the painting, we see women, Ona and Mary, sitting, Jesus is depicted sitting on his Mother’s knees, holding a cross in his right hand, and touching his grandmother’s face with his left hand. Below, we see the little John the Baptist on his knees, embracing the lamb and kissing feet of Jesus admirably.
On the left side of the painting there stands the Archangel Gabriel, who told Zacharias in the temple that he would have a son named John, who would convert the people to the Lord; and on the right is the father of John the Baptist himself, the priest of the Old Testament, Zacharias, with a censer in his hands.
The sculptures on both sides of the painting depict the beginning of John’s life, i.e. revelation to Zacharias. On the left there stands Archangel Gabriel, who seems to have just spoken to him: “Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John” (Lk 1:13).
On the right we see Zacharias, the priest of the Old Testament, with a censer in his hands, after seeing God’s messenger in the temple.
THE ALTAR OF THE GUARDIAN ANGEL (in the right nave, at the back column)
At the top of the altar we see Fr. St. John of Nepomuk, the martyr, listening to the confession of the wife of Czech King Wenceslaus IV. The King sought to know the sins of his wife, but the priest chose to be drowned in the Moldovan River rather than to give away the secret of confession. This is symbolized by an angel with his finger on his lips and another angel holding a lock, the key of which belongs to God.
The painting depicts the Guardian Angel, protecting children on a dangerous way.
On the left we see John the Merciful (550-619), also known as the Almsgiver, a famous patriarch of Alexandria yet now forgotten to some extent. He is depicted in bishop’s clothes and money sack in his hand.
On the right, a more difficult-to-recognize priest, professor St. John Cantius (1390-1473). He worked as a lecturer in philosophy at the University of Krakow, was the rector of a nearby parish of Olkusz, taught St. Casimir, became famous for his generosity and acts of love for those around him.
This altar, according to the archives, previously had another title – belonged to St. John of Nepomuk. It reveals the meaning of the whole sculptural group, i.e. the exaltation of the priest’s vocation.
The Baptistery is located at the first right column on the left, opposite the pulpit.
On the left we Jesus who is slightly kneeling with his hands crossed on his chest, on the right there stands St. John baptizing him, pouring water with one hand, and holding his cross with the other. Above them, we see the Holy Spirit, testifying to the beginning of the new creation with its appearance. This action marks the beginning of Jesus’ public activity.
The pulpit is dedicated to the liturgy of the Word; it was the place from which God’s Word was proclaimed. It is mounted on the first left column and drawn to the middle nave.
This pulpit is very adorned. Its rich and meaningful décor proclaims respect for God’s word.
The Evangelists sit very cosily and comfortably on a wide rostrum decorated with symbols depicting them: from left to right is a St. Luke with his ox lying to him (symbol of the sacrifice of Jesus), then there is St. Mark with a lion lying by his side with its legs stretched (the symbol of the greatness of Jesus’ resurrection). Next, we see St. John with his eagle sitting next to him (a symbol of the divinity of Jesus) and finally St. Matthew with a human head depicted next to him (a symbol of the human nature of Jesus).
The Word of God proclaimed by the priest from the pulpit is inspired by the Holy Spirit, depicted as a dove under the roof. At the bottom of the stand, under the feet of the priest, there is an evil spirit, trampled down and defeated evil.
At the top of the pulpit there is the statue of the Good Shepherd. He holds a sheep on his shoulders with both hands and we hear, “I am a good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (Jn 10:11).