Reformation impacts Šiluva

In the 16th century, the wave of reformation also affected Šiluva. Jonas Zaviša, who ruled Šiluva in 1532, and other landlords shifted to the reformers’ side. They built a Protestant chapel one and a half kilometers away from the town, which was later renovated or enlarged. In 1555, Jonas Zaviša handed over Šiluva to his brother Merkelis, who is considered to be the founder of Šiluva Calvinist parish.

For some time, the Evangelical Reformed Chapel and the Catholic Church were both operating in Siluva, yet in 1560, after Šiluva was taken over by Merkelis Zaviša’s cousin Merkel Shemet, a devout supporter of Reformation, the property of Šiluva Catholic Church was expropriated and the church itself closed.

The new heart of Reformation in the land of the manor eventually got the name Zbarai, since the Calvin communities and their prayer houses were called zbarai (zbor in Polish). The town of Šiluva was slowly becoming a village, and Zbarai area, called Šiluva (Szydlowa) in official documents, became the cultural focal point in the whole Calvinist district of Samogitia. The Catholic people were forced to switch to the new confession.

Around 1569 Jonas Holubka, the last rector of Šiluva, gathered the remaining values and documents of the church, as if he anticipated the destruction of the Catholic Church, and put everything in the iron-covered box, buried near the former church.

Work of a devout Calvinist Sofija Vnučkienė

In 1591, Sofija Vnučkienė, a very clever and devout Calvinist, the widow of Morkus Vnučka, bought the expropriated parish lands from the then Šiluva governors and handed them over to the Calvinist community.

The purchase act was signed on September 1 in 1591 and claimed that Šiluva Manor “with a town and ecclesiastical subordinates, with a parsonage and a manor house of Pašakarnis, belonging to the parsonage of Siluva” from now on belongs to her. For all that, she paid 9,000 Polish złoty to Merkel Zavi.

Three months later (January 4, 1592), she “handed over, donated, and gave away Šiluva with the manor, the town and the Pašakarnis manor house, which belongs to Šiluva property, with the church and church buildings, with all the land and subordinates” to the Calvinists.

She began to take care of making Šiluva the center of Calvinists. She, more than other reformed gentlemen, save the folk from “idolatry” – she took care of making Calvinism proclaimed in Lithuanian, released the first Calvinist gospels in Lithuanian. She put great efforts to establish a parish school for Calvinists. There, too, “folk children” who were not Calvinists were accepted, however they were forced to attend the Calvinist service. In 1592, the Calvinist Seminary was established in Zbarai, the only school in Lithuania which prepared for their priests and teachers.

A few years later, instead of the former wooden church, a stone church was built (started in 1593 and completed in 1595). It is believed that the bricks and stones of the old Catholic church were used for this new construction, as well as the bell with the inscription “O florens Rosa, Mater Dei speciose” (“Oh blooming rose, virgin Mother of God!”) was taken from the old church and used for many years. Gold and silver Catholic church utensils and other accessories, ecclesiastical clothes and furniture were destroyed. With the demolition of the Catholic church, the purification of Šiluva from the “Roman idolatry” was to be completed.

Resumption of Šiluva Church

As a matter of fact, the Samogitian bishop Merkelis Giedraitis attempted to resist the emergence of Calvinists, by pursuing lawsuit to regain the lost churches, as the Lithuanian Statute no. 3 of 1588 recognized the right by Catholics to regain expropriated wealth.

Samogitian bishop Merkelis Giedraitis

In 1606, the Bishop commissioned his work to a clever priest, his friend and collaborator Jonas Smolka-Kazakevičius. He showed great courage in starting Kelmė’s case and on August 11, 1609 he won Kelmė Church for Catholics. The case was difficult because of the missing documents of ownership, yet they recalled to whom the documents were handed over and the bishop and his curia knew the ecclesiastical property. However, it was actually a preparation for the Šiluva case, because nothing was known about the Šiluva foundation acts.

The only possible reference was Vnučkienė’s writings, where it was stated that this place had been reformed and cleaned up from the “Roman idolatry” and that was regarded as the basis to start the case, yet it was difficult to define the claim. Also, there was little or no hope of winning the case with lack of documents.

Here, Virgin Mary herself steps into this confusing and difficult story. In 1612, after her apparition (which occurred in 1608) unexpectedly church foundation documents were discovered. (Read more…) After their discovery, the case had been pursued since then, and 10 years after the victory was finally achieved. The written history of Šiluva states that “the case lasted 15 years”, which would suggest that the first unsuccessful process was started in 1607 or 1608. The case was finally closed in on July 22, 1622 following the decision of Vilnius Tribunal.

Further Disagreements

But the Calvinists were not in a hurry to make a decision. Then the Catholics tried to take over their lands by their own efforts, however encountered resistance from the Calvinists. One month after the Tribunal’s decision, the two parties got into a fight in the church gardens.

The cross shot by the Calvinists

Another well-known uprising occurred when the new Šiluva rector Sviekauskas decided all by himself to regain a piece of the “disputed land” next to the great rock, which was situated close to the newly restored chapel by bishop A. Sapiega. There were also Catholic cemetery in that area. Having this deed in mind, Fr. Sviekauskas sent his vicar Sierniauskas with Mr. Simanavičius and a crowd of people to take back the land.

Mr. Chelkauskas was the Calvinist pastor at that time. The new pastor gathered people, armed them and ordered them to chase Sviekauskas’ people away. The two parties started to argue, then to fight, beat with their fists and canes, and eventually started shooting next to the chapel. One bullet injured Sierniauskas, and the second one hit the crucifix, hanging in the chapel, which was donated by bishop Sapiega. It happened in 1668 or beginning of 1969.

It was not the first such accident – the fight against crosses as signs of “Roman idolatry” took place elsewhere in Lithuania. The famous case hapenned in 1640 in Vilnius, where Calivinists were blamed for firing at holy paintings of St. Michael’s Church and the cross on the top of the church.

Case in the State Seimas

After investigating the incident and collecting material Bishop Kazimieras Pacas decided to take Šiluva’s Calvinists to court in the State Seimas. The behaviour of Šiluva’s Calvinists, as presented in the Seimas, caused considerable resentment both among the assembled nobility and the new king Kaributas Višniaveckis. This behavior, which violates God’s greatness, used to be severely punished by state law.

The following punishments were imposed on Šiluva’s Calvinists: their community was closed, land seized, and three “Zborist”” as well as a preacher condemned to death. The Royal Decree of the Seimas was signed on November 6, 1669, In Krakow.

Reconciliation efforts

Reformers, whose influence was still quite strong, decided to act to reverse and mitigate the decision. But their efforts were futile. With no hope of changing the decision on the Šiluva case, the Reformers began to look for another solution. For this matter, in 1670 and 1671 Conferences in Kėdainiai and Congress in Vilnius were organized. Seniors of the Calvinist communities, a number of preachers and patrons of the Šiluva community gathered in Vilnius. The congress comitted to seek “amicable reconciliation” and appealed to the Governor of Šiluva, Jonas Merkelis Bilėnas-Bilevičius, to mediate between the Calvinists and the Samogitian bishop.

Bilevičius agreed, and negotiations began. Finally, it was agreed that Jonas Merkelis Bilevičius, in the presence of Šiluva patrons, would pay to Bishop Kazimieras Pacas and Samogitian chapter 12,000 gold, and for this the Šiluva Calvinist community gave him the Šiluva manor, the Pašakarnis manor, the Nanišai village and the Rugieniškės land, as well as Šiluva town with 21 peasant families and 11 villages with inhabitants.

The Calvinist community were left only with a church with a parsonage, a fenced area of land around the church, a school, and pastures of the parsonage and its subordinates. Bilevičius was asked to guard and defend this remaining Calvinist property. The handing over of Šiluva to Bilevičius was signed on 16 March 1672 in Šiluva. This agreement saved the Calvinist land of Šiluva from confiscation, and three “zborists” and a preacher from the death penalty.

Bishop Kazimieras Pacas donated the money received from the Calvinists to the Church of Šiluva, obliging the Chapel to hold the Holy Mass accompanied by music by the painting of the Crucified every Friday in honour of the Cross. Also, in 1677 he introduced the celebration of worship of the Cross as well as the Festival.

Now this painting of the Crucified is transferred to the chapel of Šiluva church.