Lithuanian version

MERKELIS GIEDRAITIS (Biography)

By Simas Suziedielis

Merkelis Giedraitis (ca 1536-1609), bishop of Samogitia with residence inMerkelis Giedraitis Medininkai (later called Varniai). Born into an aristocratic family, he studied intermittently at several Prussian and German universities: Königsberg in 1550, Wittenberg and Tiubingen from 1560-1563 Leipzig from 1563. Ordained priest in 1571, he was elevated the next year to chapter prelate of the diocese of Vilnius. The death of the bishop of Samogitia in 1574 marked the beginning of a two-year long struggle to make Giedraitis his successor. Giedraitis’ opponent was a pole supported by the primmer of Poland, Ushanski. Finally Giedraitis prevailed because he possessed the asset of knowing well the Lithuanian language, and was consecrated bishop in 1576 in Vilnius.

Giedraitis found his diocese, which encompassed all of western and central Lithuania, under the influence of Protestantism and in a rather disordered state generally. However, the extreme contention of some writers that there were no more than 7 priests in the entire diocese at that time has been refuted by new research. Sources of the time show that the diocese actually had about 20 priests and 40 parishes , but this facts was obscured by the prevailing practice of having one priest administer several parishes for proprietary reasons. Executing the resolutions of the Council of Trent (1545-1563), Giedraitis put an end this abusive arrangement, took steps to increase the number of priests and to establish new parishes, propagated religious education and promoted the publishing of religious books in Lithuanian. Among his co-workers was Canon Dauksa (g.v), who in 1595 edited a catechism, the first Lithuanian book to be published in Lithuania Proper. Giedraitis also financed Dauksa’s Postilla (1599), whose preface emphasised the importance of the Lithuanian language. His efforts brought the Jesuits to Kraziai, resulting in the establishment of the first monastery in Samogitia. Giedraitis helped found and was a protector of the Academy of Vilnius (established in 1579). He supported the education of 12 clerics at the Theological Seminary of Vilnius and sought to open a seminary in his own diocese, a project realised only after his death. As a member of the Council of Lords he defended the independence of Lithuania from Polish attempts to restrict it following the Union of Lublin in 1569. He appointed M. Stryjkowski (q.v.)., a member of the laity, to his chapter, thereby supporting the writing of Stryjkowski’s Chronicle (1582), a work recounting deeds from Lithuania’s past. One of his country’s great bishops, Giedraitis died in Varniai on April 6, 1609.

The historian Zenonas Ivinskis, basing himself on documents he found in archives at Rome, wrote an important study Merkelis Giedraitis (1955), which is still in manuscript from.

From the “Encyclopedia Lituanica”. Boston, 1972.


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