Kraziai, town in central Samogitia (western Lithuania), between Varniai (32 km) and Raseiniai (44 km), on the Krazante river (tributary of the Dubysa). The population in 1959 was 998; 1 6113 in 1923, ca 2000 in 1939. The town has a secondary school. It is a rural community centre. Under the Republic of Lithuania, Kraziai was the township seat of the county of Raseiniai. After World War II it was assigned to the soviet administrative district of Kelme.
Kraziai is one of the older settlements in Samogitia. Many barrow graves and fortress hills are located in its neighbourhood. North of the town stands the Medziokalnis hill covered with linden and oak trees, witch according to legend was the abode of the goddess of forests, Medeine. The name of the locality is first mentioned in a 1257 document of King Mindaugas, by which a part of Samogitia was assigned to the Teutonic Order. Vytautas Magnus during his first years of rule ceded Samogitia to the Teutonic Order; the regent he appoint lived in Kraziai. After the battle of Tannenberg (1410), when Samogitia regained its freedom, Kraziai became the district centre.
In the 16th century Kraziai came to be ruled by the magnate family of Kesgaila, and became the seat of the elder of Samogitia; several members of this family were appointed to this post. Here the Samogitian nobles held their dirtiness and assembled for inspection before going to war. In 1528 the inhabitants of the township of Kraziai included 200 nobles, who had to supply horses for battle, the number depending on the size of their land. With the last member of the Kesgaila family (1556), Kraziai reverted to the state, which at that time was ruled by King Sigismund Augustus. In 1559 he gave it to the English princess Catharine of Suffolk and her husband Richard Berth for 3 676 Dutch thalers. They had left their own country to escape persecution; princess Catharine was the aunt of lady Jane Grey , heir to the English throne who was executed after internal struggles for the throne. When the pair decided to return to England after five years, Nicholas Radvilas (Radziwill), palatine of Vilnius, repaid them the same sum and took over the administration of Kraziai.He built a brich mansion but resided there very seldom. At the beginning of the 19th century part of the township of Karziai was assigned to General J. Judicki, and the remainder divided among various persons. In 1865 the town had 1 450 inhabitants; in 1897 it had 1 761. Formerly Kraziai was a noted religious and cultural centre of Samogitia. It had a parish church, one of the first in Samogitia (1416), and two belonging to religious orders, the Jesuits (1621) and the Benedictine Sisters (1641). Endowed with many donations, the parish was the richest in the diocese. The old parish church, destroyed many times by fire and each time rebuilt, has not survived; the present church dates back to the beginning of the 19th century. Upon the invitation of M. Giedraitis, Bishop of Samogitia, two Jesuit priests from the Academy of Vilnius came to Kraziai and in 1608 established a Jesuit mission there. The college was founded in 1616, and in 1621 construction of the church was begun. Its main altar was decorated with a copy from Rome of the painting Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary by Leonard da Vinci. The Jesuits expanded their missionary work to other Samogitian Parishes; they helped to establish new missions in Varniai and Zidikai and colleges in Kaunas and Pasiause. Their activities were disrupted in 1773, and their church was abandoned in 1821; the copy of the da Vinci painting disappeared as well. The Benedictine Sisters established themselves in Kraziai in 1643; their wooden church of the Immaculate Conception and convent had been built in 1641. A new brick church was built in 1757-1763. Nineteen sisters lived at the convent. At the time that the Russians were closing down monasteries, the Benedictine Sisters were forcibly taken to Kaunas in 1893, and the church was to be demolished. The local inhabitants heroically defended it against the Russian gendarmes and Cossacks, sustaining heavy casualties. This bloody encounter became widely known as the Massacre of Kraziai.
Kraziai was a centre of education for almost 200 years. The Jesuits college functioned from 1614-1773, affiliated with the Samogitian Theological Seminary until 1740. When the pope disbanded the Jesuit Order in 1773, the Carmelites of the Kolainiai friary took over the college in 1797 and administered in for 20 years. At this time the school had about 500 students, a large library (ca 3000 volumes) and good physics laboratory. Lacking funds to repair the school buildings, the Carmelites in 1817 returned the school to the Educational Commission, to which it had formally belonged since 1773. The school was under the direct supervision of the University of Vilnius, whose graduates were appointed to teach there. It was now called a district school. In 1823 it had 16 teachers and 450 students; its library had increased to 5 000 volumes. This school played a considerable part in promoting learning in Lithuania. Among its students were persons who subsequently became prominent as national leaders and writers, like S. Stanevicius, D. Poska, L. Jucevicius (Jucewicz), the brothers Antanas ir Jonas Juska, and A. Fromas-Guzutis. In 1842 the school with all its possessions was transferred to Kaunas.
With the loss of its cultural institutions, Kraziai became a simple village in the heart of Samogitia, distant from the newer roads and railroads. The town began to grow again during the period of Lithuanian independence, when a high school (1919-1920) and the township administration were re-established, and later when the Kaunas-Klaipeda highway was built. The number of inhibitions increased to 2 000 after World War II in decreased by half.
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Cultural Association Editorial Board, 1998.
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