The living heritage of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania
Regarding Uniates, Basilians, and Holy Trinity ensemble in Vilnius


Thinking about history and cultural inheritance, generally we only see those things that are relevant for our society (nation). We single these out as the only ones or, unquestionably, the most important. We don’t often pay attention to the contributions of other nations or ethnic-confessional groups. Ukrainian studies in the Humanities have until now in a limited way interpreted the era of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, not realizing its importance for the development of the legacy of Kyivan Rus and Ruthenian (modern Belarusian and Ukrainian) culture, and also their adaptation to new historical circumstances (↑). Correspondingly, in Lithuania there has been too little awareness of the contribution of the multi-million Ruthenian community in the multinational and multiconfessional GDL (↑).

Begun in 2016 as a joint project of researchers from Lithuania and Ukraine, the collective monograph Аt Cultural Crossroads: the Holy Trinity Shrine and Monastery in Vilnius (Vilnius, 2017; in Lithuanian and Ukrainian languages) and this website offer a new approach to the interpretation of the common heritage of both nations. The common point is the communities of Eastern Christian tradition of the GDL, Orthodox and Uniates (Greek-Catholics). These communities belonged to the Kyivan Metropolitanate, the center of which at the beginning was in Kyiv, and from the 15th century in Novogrudok and Vilnius. At that time, Vilnius was the only polis in Europe at the сrossroads of two worlds, Latin and Byzantine. It was Vilnius that united Eastern and Western Europe; here representatives of various nationalities and cultures lived shoulder to shoulder (↑).

One of the most important centers of Eastern Christian tradition and intercultural interaction in the GDL and Vilnius was Holy Trinity Monastery and Church in Vilnius (located on Aušros Vartų Street, 7b) [1]. This complex (together with the Dormition Cathedral Church in Vilnius) practically from the moment of its existence was the most important religious and cultural center of the Ruthenians of the Lithuanian state, at the start Orthodox, and from 1596 Uniates. Its fate reflects the whole history of the Lithuanian part of the Kyivan Metropolitanate. The lives of Ruthenians who dedicated themselves to the Orthodox and Uniate churches are connected with it. First of all are martyrs and saints: three martyrs of Vilnius, Anthony, John, and Eustathius (14th century) (↑); bishop and martyr Kyivan metropolitan Macarius (15th century); bishop and martyr Josaphat Kuntsevych (17th century) (↑); and Uniate Kyivan metropolitan Josyf Veliamyn Rutsky (17th century) (↑). Built in the 16th century, the brick Church of the Holy Trinity is a wonderful example of Renaissance architecture (↑) and, at the same time, a memorial monument to Orthodox Duke Konstanty Ostrogski, one of the most gifted politicians of Lithuania at that time (↑). He built this shrine to thank God for Lithuania’s victory over the Muscovite army in 1514 at the Battle of Orsha (↑).

Up to the 17th century, at Holy Trinity Church there was an Orthodox monastery (some archimandrites of this monastery became metropolitans of Kyiv), a church brotherhood of the same name (the first community of its type of citizens of Vilnius) (↑), a school, and a press (the first Eastern Slavic grammar was printed here) (↑). From the start of the 17th century, this sacred complex was the main center of the whole monastic Order of St. Basil the Great. From here, Uniate monasticism, reformed in 1617, spread to a vast territory which today contains Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine, and part of Russia. The monks of Holy Trinity Monastery were teachers at the Jesuit university in Vilnius. From the 17th to the first half of the 19th centuries, the Basilians printed at their presses more than 200 different publications, in the Latin, Lithuanian, Polish, Ruthenian (Ukrainian), and Church Slavonic languages. In this way, Holy Trinity Church and Monastery is a phenomenon and a shining example of the multiconfessional and multicultural history of the GDL, involving its Ruthenian segment.

Today the material and non-material legacy of the GDL continues to exist successfully. The most important role is played by the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, which has strong roots in Ukraine (↑). In 1991, Greek-Catholics in Lithuania were given a legal status, and Holy Trinity Complex in Vilnius was given to the Greek-Catholics. This complex became the most important center of the cultural and religious life of the Ukrainian community of Lithuania.

This website presents research on Holy Trinity Complex in Vilnius and also various research contexts important for a better understanding of its history. Studies began in 2016 at the initiative of the History Faculty of Vilnius University and the Ukrainian Catholic University, when Lithuanian and Ukrainian researchers were united. Thirty-six texts are gathered here, prepared by 19 authors: historians of culture, art, and religion; archeologists; and specialists on questions of heritage. The website is intended for those who are interested in the legacy of the GDL and research on it, the city of Vilnius, and also for guests of Holy Trinity Complex.

Sources of illustrations:

1. Collection of VU IF.
  • The project is implemented by:
  • VU Istorijos fakultetas
  • UKU