Vilnius’ Brotherhoods

Unknown 17th century Lithuanian artist. Bishop of Vilnius Matthias of Trakai. 17th century. Lithuanian National Museum of Art

Brotherhoods – religious associations of the clergy and secular society – were first founded in Vilnius in the 15th century. They serve as a reliable indicator of the intensity of religious life in that time. Their purpose was to promote the members’ Christian way of life as much as possible and engage in certain religious or public activities.

The first brotherhood known in Vilnius settled near the parochial St. John’s Church on the eve of the Grand Duke of Lithuania Vytautas’ crowning ceremony in October 1430. The head of Vilnius along with other city dwellers set their hearts on establishing a brotherhood; however, Bishop Matthew instructed members of the brotherhood to comply with the rules and the procedure of rituals that were observed by the traditional Catholics.

Bishops also used to meet with members of the brotherhood. For those who were properly prepared and took part in sacred services and performed good deeds, wakes of forty days were held. These could be earned by praying for the living and departed members of the brotherhood (10 Lord’s Prayers, 10 Hail Marys) or by donating one denarius.

Brotherhoods were also established at other churches, but in the middle of the 16th century, most brotherhoods ceased operating due to the surge of reformation. By the end of the 19th century, all the brotherhoods were eliminated.

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