Spiritual Children of Fribourg: Lithuanians at the University of Fribourg and Their Importance for Lithuania
The exhibition aims to present a comprehensive picture of the intellectual activity of Lithuanians who studied at the Catholic University of Fribourg in the late 19th and the first half of the 20th century and their importance for the fledging modern state of Lithuania through the activity of the Rūta–Lituania student society (1899–1934) and artefacts related to that society: a student flag, photographs, scientific works of its members and other publications.
The flag of the Rūta–Lituania student society, an object of extraordinary cultural importance, undoubtedly became a symbol not only for the Lithuanian identity but also for the organisation itself. It was used when the society participated in festive events of the university and various other corporations. Later, as the society withered, it was given over to the university. The rector of the University of Fribourg kept it to this day and handed it over to the Church Heritage Museum for permanent safekeeping in 2019. During the opening the flag together with a catalogue of the exhibition will be presented for Lithuanian society for the first time.
After the suppression of the uprising of 1863–1864, which was an attempt to restore the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, it became obvious that the former state could not be revived. The aim to break free from the Russian Empire could only emanate from a totally new national power that had not yet manifested itself. Vilnius University remained closed up until 1919, and thus could not become a source of new resistance. The youth of Lithuania – children of not only aristocrats and nobles, but also city residents and peasants – sought education at universities of Moscow and Saint Petersburg, and from the late nineteenth century, also in Western Europe. This is how the University of Fribourg became important for Lithuanian national self-education.
The significance of this university for the formation of Lithuanian statehood is beyond doubt. It was one of the most important hubs attracting Lithuanian Catholic intellectuals, both priests and secular people. The majority of them defended their doctoral dissertations in Fribourg, often becoming the first in their field in Lithuania: theologian, Vilnius bishop-to-be, Blessed Jurgis Matulaitis, philosopher and rector-to-be of Vytautas Magnus University Stasys Šalkauskis, writer Vincas Mykolaitis-Putinas, historian Jonas Totoraitis, historian and teacher Marija Andziulytė-Ruginienė and many others. The Swiss Joseph Ehret, who got acquainted with Lithuanians during his studies in Fribourg, received Lithuanian citizenship in the interwar period and actively worked for the benefit of Lithuania, should be mentioned separately. Though many of these names are known, it is often forgotten that the studies at the University of Fribourg made a huge influence on their worldview, and it was in Fribourg that they were actively involved in building the modern state of Lithuania. It was in that city that they were formed as intellectuals and began to crystallise their ideas and make international contacts. Though the fact that since its establishment in the late nineteenth century quite many students from Lithuania attended the University of Fribourg is mentioned in Lithuanian historiography, there are no studies that would provide a more detailed view of why and what kind of Lithuanians went there to study, and what activity they were engaged in.
Curators: Justinas Dementavičius, Claude Hauser, Kamilė Jagėlienė, Algimantas Katilius, Mantė Lenkaitytė Ostermann, Monika Šipelytė, Vykintas Vaitkevičius
Organiser: Church Heritage Museum
Partners: University of Fribourg, Lithuanian Institute of History, Lithuanian Community in Switzerland
Sponsors: Archdiocese of Vilnius, Lithuanian Council for Culture, Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Lithuania, hotel „Domus Maria“
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