Ongoing Exhibitions

Our Lady of Trakai – Patroness of Lithuania. Treasury of the Trakai church, 15th–18th c. 2018 06 20

The image of Our Lady of Trakai is one of the earliest and most renowned miraculous images in Lithuania. It was the first image in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania to be officially crowned with papal crowns in 1718. In the exhibition, 15th–18th c. treasury of the Trakai church is presented: crowns, frames, votives, liturgical textile, monstrances and other vessels that show the history of veneration of Our Lady of Trakai.

A legend relates the painting to the name of Grand Duke of Lithuania Vytautas, the endower of the Trakai church. Though physical and chemical analysis showed that in its original shape, the image belongs to the late Gothic painting tradition, a story that it is an icon gifted to Vytautas the Great by the Byzantine emperor lingers on. Researchers think that before 1650, the painting was adapted to the new altar, made smaller and repainted in a style closer to the Byzantine icon tradition, taking the icon of Our Lady of the Snows from the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome as the proto-image. This emphasized its ancient origin and its relation to Vytautas the Great, the endower of the Trakai church, which was decorated with Byzantine-style frescoes.

The earliest records of devotion to Our Lady of Trakai and the miracles experienced at this painting go back to the beginning of the 17th century. It is known that when the plague epidemics broke out in Vilnius in 1602, Bishop Benedykt Woyna together with the Jesuits organized a public procession of penitents from Vilnius to Trakai, calling the city’s residents to pray for salvation at the image of Our Lady, famous already at that time. The procession in gratitude to the Blessed Virgin Mary for the victory on the Battle of Khotyn was poetically described Matthias Casimirus Sarbievius in the series of epodes “Four Miles of the Virgin Mother” in 1622. In 1718, the grace-giving picture was ceremoniously crowned with golden crowns sent by Pope Clement XI, which were procured by Bishop of Vilnius Konstanty Brzostowski according to the procedure established by the Chapter of the Vatican Basilica.

Only a very small part of the treasury of the Trakai church endowed by Grand Duke of Lithuania Vytautas in 1409 has reached our times. It is known that in the middle of the 17th century, the treasury contained quite many goldsmith’s tools of “ancient craftsmanship”, which are no longer mentioned in the inventories of the late 18th century. The earliest surviving treasure of this church is a Gothic reliquary cross from the late 15th or early 16th century or, more precisely, its part – the frontal plate with the Crucifix and the symbols of the four evangelists engraved on the ends. The most impressive and valuable part of the treasury of the Trakai church is the decorations of the miraculous painting of Our Lady of Trakai – its frames and crowns. The Trakai church has preserved two silver frames of the painting, three crowns of the Blessed Virgin Mary and four crowns (including the two belonging to the frames) of the Infant Jesus.

Already back in 1630, the church had six different crowns of Mary, one of which has survived and still adorns the Mother of God. It is dated to the early 17th century and goes back to the time when Benedykt Woyna or Eustachy Wołłowicz served as deans in Trakai. The second magnificent crown of Mary, embellished with enamel and precious stones, is thought to be a gift from the Sapieha family. In the exhibition, the golden crowns of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Infant Jesus, sent from the Vatican Chapter and ceremoniously placed on the painting in 1718, are also displayed.

In 1677, Bishop of Vilnius Mikołaj Stefan Pac commissioned a gilded silver frame for the famous painting – a goldsmith’s work of exquisite craftsmanship. It has reached our days without one plate.  The second surviving frame, which decorates the painting today, was forged by the Vilnius goldsmith Joan Frydericus Schömnick in 1723. The treasury of the Trakai church contains several works by this renowned artist. He is also the author of the forged parts of the antependium of the high altar of the Trakai church and six candleholders of the altar. Though Schömnick did not sign his works, his unique style and favourite floral motifs in the ornament allow us to attribute two reliquaries and one of the seven surviving eighteenth-century mass chalices to this master.

A gem of the treasury is a rococo-style monstrance created by another talented Vilnius goldsmith Johann Larry, the earliest in Lithuania, which is related to the Augsburg school of goldsmithery of the late 17th century. It may have been commissioned by the provost of the Trakai church, Bishop of Vilnius Józef Stanisław Sapieha from the offered votives.

Exhibition organizer: The Church Heritage Museum
Trakai Basilica of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Trakai History Museum
Supported by: Archdiocese of Vilnius, Lithuanian Council for Culture, The Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Lithuania



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