If you want to see the key buildings of the Vilnius Old Town, this route is just for you! You’ll get to know Lithuania’s principal sanctuary – Vilnius Cathedral, descend into its mysterious vaults and follow the stairs in the cathedral’s bell tower to rise above the city for a panoramic view! You’ll also visit the Church Heritage Museum and see its masterpieces of gold and silver work from the Vilnius Cathedral Treasury.
Descriptions, photos and details
Vilnius Cathedral Basilica of St. Stanislaus and St. Vladislaus
St. John Paul II started his historic visit to Lithuania with a prayer at the Vilnius Cathedral Basilica, which he called “the beating heart of the Lithuanian nation”. Vilnius Cathedral is one of the oldest Lithuanian churches. It was mentioned for the first time in recorded history in 1387, the same year as the Christianization of Lithuania. The Cathedral received the title of St. Vladislaus, because it was the baptismal name of Jogaila, the Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland. The main altar features a painting portraying the death of St. Stanislaus, the patron of Vilnius Cathedral and the Bishop of Krakow. St. Stanislaus chastised the Polish King Boleslaw II the Bold for his cruelty and injustice, and eventually he excommunicated the King. In retaliation the King murdered St. Stanislaus during a Holy Mass. The painting was done by Pranciskus Smuglevicius, a famous Lithuanian artist.
Throughout 600 years of its existence Vilnius Cathedral was rebuilt several times, until it acquired its current Neoclassical style at the beginning of the 19th century (architect Laurynas Gucevicius). The Cathedral was closed (1949-1988) during the Soviet occupation, and for a long period of time it housed the Vilnius Art Gallery. Only in 1988, was the Cathedral returned to the faithful and then solemnly re-consecrated. The relics of St. Casimir, the patron of Lithuania and youth, were also returned to the Cathedral, and are now venerated in the magnificent Chapel of St. Casimir. The Gostautai Chapel in the right nave of the Cathedral features the painting of Sapiega Madonna. In 1750 the pope crowned this painting for numerous graces granted to the faithful. There are 11 chapels in the Cathedral. In addition to the previously-mentioned Chapels of St. Casimir and Gostautai, the pilgrims can also pray at the Holy Eucharist and Exiles Chapels, located in the right nave, and St. Vladislaus and Valaviciai Chapels in the left nave.
Distinguished noblemen, rulers, bishops and other clergymen of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania are buried in the crypts of Vilnius Cathedral. The King of Poland and the Grand Duke of Lithuania Aleksandras Jogailaitis, Queen Barbora Radvilaite, Queen Ezbieta Habsburgaite and the heart of the ruler Vladislovas IV Vasa are buried in the royal mausoleum. In 1985 the treasury of the Cathedral was discovered. It consists of Lithuanian goldsmith masterpieces, which were hastily hidden in a niche between Gostautai and Exiles Chapels in fall of 1939, after World War II began. Today the treasury of Vilnius Cathedral is displayed at the Church Heritage Museum.
Monday– Sunday – 7 a.m.–7 p.m.
Excursions are not available during the Holy Mass.
Monday–Saturday – 8 a.m., 5.30 p.m.
Sunday – 8 a.m., 9 a.m., 10 a.m., 11.15 a.m., 12.30 p.m., 5.30 p.m.
Saturday – 6.30 p.m.
Vilnius Cathedral bell tower
The bell tower is an important part of the complex comprising the Vilnius Cathedral Basilica and the Lower and Upper Castles and a symbol of the city. The bell tower dates back to the middle of the 18th century. It acquired its current appearance in the early 19th century. In the upper part of the structure the city’s oldest clock keeps time, tolling bells invite people to Holy Mass, and an unexpected panoramic view of Vilnius opens up.
The large bells toll as an invitation to Holy Mass and to mark solemn liturgies, commemorations and feasts. Most of the cathedral’s old bells perished amid various misfortunes; today only two remain – the ones that accompany the clock’s advances. Thus in 2002, Archbishop Joachim Meisner of Cologne made a gift to Vilnius Cathedral of six newly cast bells, the tolling of which can be heard up.
There is an old tradition of giving every bell a name, a symbolic mark and a Latin inscription. The largest bell, which weighs 2,595 kg, was christened with the name of Joachim in honor of the patron saint of Cardinal Joachim Meisner. The anchor which can be seen on the bell symbolizes hope, while the inscription declares: Spes nostra firma (“Our hope is firm”).
The second-largest bell, which weighs 1,505 kg, is dedicated to St. Casimir. On its side is the relief of a lily, which symbolizes chastity, and these words from a hymn the prince was fond of: Omni die dic Mariae (“Daily, daily sing to Mary”). This hymn is very popular in Germany where the bell was made.
The clock on the cathedral bell tower is the oldest one in the city. It is thought to have been mounted there in the 17th century.
Monday– Saturday– 10 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Monday–Saturday– 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Ticket office is closed 30 min before the closing time.
The bells ring at 5 p.m.
The Church of St. Michael the Archangel (Church Heritage Museum)
The Church Heritage Museum is established in St. Michael’s Church – a famous mausoleum of the Sapieha family. It is the only place where you can see the Treasury of Vilnius Cathedral, which was hidden away in the wall of the Cathedral for almost half a century, and the earliest masterpieces of Lithuanian goldsmiths and textile artists.
The Vilnius Cathedral Treasury is the oldest and most extensive of all the treasuries preserved in Lithuanian churches. The first items it acquired were rich liturgical articles donated by Jogaila and Vytautas of the Gediminid dynasty and their wives, along with gifts from abroad sent to celebrate Lithuania’s official adoption of Christianity. Heads of state, nobility and bishops bestowed magnificent liturgical articles on the cathedral: crosses, chalices, reliquaries, monstrances. In wartime the valuables were removed and/or hidden, last ending up in a hiding place when World War II began.
St. Michael the Archangel Church and the former Bernardine Franciscan Sisters Monastery form an impressive Renaissance-era ensemble. Its construction and decoration was supported by Leonas Sapiega, one of the most prominent noblemen in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the 16th-17th centuries. The monastery housed strictly cloistered Bernardine Sisters. The Church served not only as a house of prayer, but also as a mausoleum for the Sapiega family. On the eve of World War II, the contents of the Vilnius Cathedral treasury were hidden in a wall and bricked over. They were discovered in 1985, but were not shown to the public until 1999-2003 in exhibits at the Lithuanian Art Museum. In 2006, the entire Cathedral treasury was returned to the Vilnius Archdiocese and since 2009 has been on display at the Church Heritage Museum.
The Church of St. Michael the Archangel is the first sanctuary in Lithuania built as a mausoleum for a noble family. Five burial crypts remain beneath the church’s floor. In some of them nuns are buried, in others lay people. Leonas Sapiega is buried in the family crypt with his sons Jonas Stanislovas and Kristupas and other family members. Four early 17th-century burial monuments for members of the Sapiega family survive in the church and are of great value. They show the power, wealth and subtle artistic taste of those who commissioned them.
In the Soviet era, the monastery and church were closed. The buildings were left unused and abandoned for a time and the church’s 18th-century altarpieces and pulpit were demolished. Renovated after a fire in 1964, the church was opened as a museum of architecture, while the monastery premises were adapted to serve as a student dormitory, apartments and industrial workshops. The church and dilapidated monastery building were returned to the Vilnius Archdiocese in 1993. In 2009, restoration of the ensemble was completed and the Church Heritage Museum opened to visitors.