Its founding (1417) and significance for Lithuania (1417-1967)

While a bishopric was founded in Vilnius, Cathedral chapter of Varniaithe capital of Lithuania, and a number of parishes grounded in central Lithuania (Aukstaiciai) in 1387, Samogitia (Zemaiciai) remained untouched by this missionary activity.
The Grand Duke of Lithuania, Vytautas the Great, and the King of Poland, Jogaila, found it necessary to wage a long-lasting war with the Teutonic Knights (the German Order) to determine the flat and eventual possession of these lands.
It was only after the peace of thorn (1411), which followed the – Polish-Lithuanian victory at Tennenberg (Grunwald) in 1410, that Vytautas and his cousin Jogaila took the initiative to convert the Samogitians (in autumn of 1413).
Although the Teutonic Order had twice earlier ruled the territory of Samogitia (1398-1401, 1405-1409), it had done relatively little toward its conversion.

The conflict with the Teutonic Order over the boundaries of Samogitia and its possession, however, continued. Then, through the special mediation of Pope John XXIII’s legate, both sides agreed to hand their quarrel over for resolution to the Church Counsil of Constance (1414-1418).

At the Council the delegates of Vytautas and Jogaila raised severe criticisms and accusations against the Teutonic Order. Vytautas sent a sixty-member delegation of Samogiatians. Its well-known Proposicio Samaytarum throroughly and with vivid examples presented the sufferings of the inhabitants of Samogitia under Teutonic Order’s rule. The Map of Samogitia. 16 century

The Teutonic Knights, on the other hand, all accusations, tried various means to discredit the Lithuanians before the assembled delegates at the Council. They once again raised the issue, that Lithuanians are not trustworthy. They cited the example of the first (and only) Lithuanian king, Mindaugas, who, having been baptised and having founded a bishopric in his own capital, Vilnius, remained a christian only eight years, as he later fell away from the fait. Despite unwarranted attacks, the voice of the Samogitians was heard, and their complaint moved many a participant at the Council.

The delegates of the two cousins Vytautas and Jogailahad relative success at the Council, for the latter empowered the archbishop of Lwów (Lemberg) and the bishop of Vilnius to baptise the inhabitants of Samogitia, establish parishes and even found a bishopric. This latter provision, it appears, marked the only occasion in the history of the Church, that a Church Council concerned itself directly with the creation of a new diocese.

The Grand Duke of Lithuania, Vytautas, devoted much attention to the foundation of this new diocese. He immediately sought to provide for the material well-being of the first bishop Matthew Trakiskis (Who – a foreigner – spoke Lithuanian well) and that of his canons. In 1421 Vytautas donated many lands to the bishop and his cathedral chapter, thus the new bishopric a source of wealth for its maintenance.

The Livonian Order, the bishop of Curland, and the archbishop of Riga, all made pretensions to the ecclesiastical control of Samogitia. These were based on the donations (their documents) from 1251-1260 of Lithuania’s king, Mindaugas, which, however, historians hold to be for the most part genuine. The bishop of Curland also argued that, since separate areas of Samogitia had earlier belonged to his bishopric, entire Samogitia should now be placed under his jurisdiction. The archbishop of Riga simply tried to use the weight of his ecclesiastical title in his attempt to have the new diocese of Medininkai included in his archdiocese. But Martin V, the newly elected pope of the Council of Constance, placed the diocese of Medininkai under the esslesiastical jurisdiction of the archbishopric of Gniezno (in 1428).

This diocese of Medininkai (from the 17th century onward increasingly called of Samogitia) in general played an important role in the history of the Lithuanian Church. The Samogitians, who had long maintained their pagan beliefs, fervently acceptied the teachings of Christ. It fact, Samogitia later came to be called Holy Samogitia. Here ancient relationships survived the longest. Along the roads and byways of this land vast numbers of crosses, shrine-posts and shrines were erected. Cathedral chapter of Varniai

The historical significance of the bishopric of Samogitia was indeed very great. This diocese had two very prominent bishops, whose pastoral efforts were of special importance to the whole Lithuanian nation. The first was Merkelis Giedraitis (d. 1609), who carried out the second conversion of the first Lithuanian-Catholic books (1585-1599). In the 19th century even a great role was plaudited by bishop Motiejus Valancius (d. 1875). He himself wrote books, teaching the nation how to oppose Russian oppression and pressures for conversion to the Orthodox faith. When the printing of Lithuanian books was banned in Lithuania, it was he, who organisation the smuggling into Lithuania proper of books printed across the border in Prussian Lithuania.

The bishopric of Samogitia-Zemaitija (Medininkai) developed many noble traditions in over 500 years of existence. In 1926 the papal bull Lithuanorum Gente device the diocese into three separate ones. The nucleus of the old diocese of Panevezys and the archdiocese of Kaunas. To the latter the two other Lithuanian bishopric (Vilkaviskis and Kaisiadorys) were also subordinated, thus creating the separate ecclesiastical province of Kaunas, i. e. Lithuania.

In conclusion it can be said , that, based entirely on facts from authentic sources, the bishopric of Medininkai, founded in 1417 by the Council of Constance, has an indisputable and indelible place in the annals of Lithuanian history.

From a book Zenonas Ivinskis. Rinktiniai raštai, IV. Krikscionybe Lietuvoje. 1987, Roma
Photo of Jonas Danauskas

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© Samogitian Cultural Association Editorial Board, 1998.
Page updated 2003.05.15.
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