Bonifratres Monastery and the Church of Holy Cross

Photographer unknown. General view of the Church of the Holy Cross and the western wing of the Order of Brothers Hospitallers monastery. 1910s. Lithuanian National Museum of Art

The Bronifratres (Latin boni fratres – good brothers), whose official name is the Order of Brothers Hospitallers of StJohn of God, were most famous for their vows to serve the sick. According to legend, the Bonifratres Monastery was built on the site where tortured Franciscans were buried. The monastery could admit and treat 14 sick men, most of whom had mental illnesses. Hence, the monastery can be called the originator of hospitals in Vilnius. Monks worked as nurses, and the first surgeons were barbers, who were hired because they knew how to perform bloodletting. Evidently, the Bonifratres were called “hospitallers” for a reason, as medieval care homes, the predecessors of modern hospitals, were installed near churches and intended for the poor or the sick.

The Church of the Holy Cross was said to have curative powers – there was a springlet flowing near the entry, which was believed to cure eye diseases. The image of the St. Virgin Mary depicted on the façade of the church reiterates the image that is inside the church.

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