The Network of Monasteries in Lithuania: Historical Development

  • Darius Liutikas Lithuanian Social Research Centre
Keywords: monasteries in Lithuania, the number of monasteries, the network of monasteries, monasteries of the Old Believers and Ortodox


The article presents the main trends of the development of the network of monasteries in Lithuania and their architectural features. The development of monasteries that have or are operating in the present territory of Lithuania is analyzed. Monasteries create conditions for the unique way of life of their inhabitants. The territorial network of the monasteries influenced the landscape, but in some cases the landscape also determined the choice of the place of the monastery and the activities carried out. The monasteries themselves can be analyzed in the context of the sacred heritage or as the specific communities characterized by a defined institutional structure and exceptional religious way of life.

Based on different sources and the author’s calculations the dynamics of the number of Catholic monasteries in the current territory of Lithuania are presented in the table. The highest number of male monasteries (86) was in the 18th century, and the highest number of female monasteries (76 including monastic houses) are in a contemporary Lithuania (data of 2018). The periods of the Tsarist Russia and the Soviet occupation were particularly difficult for the development of monasteries. At the beginning of the 20th century only five monasteries were officially active. All Catholic monasteries were closed and monks had to operate secretly in the Soviet era. In the 20th century during the years of independence the number of monasteries in Lithuania has increased. There were 13 male and 41 female monastic communities in Lithuania with 24 men and 76 female monasteries (including monastic houses) in 2018. There were 5 male monasteries and 16 female monasteries dislocated in two or more geographical locations in Lithuania.

Both contemplative and apostolic monasteries were characterized by their own intrinsic layout and architecture. The main parts of the monasteries were the church building, the monastic living space (cloister), the rooms for the guests and pilgrims (forestorium), as well as the closed eremitorium. The monasteries usually had courtyards, gardens, farm buildings, premises for the newcomers, premises for the leader of the monastery (abbot or prior), and premises for servants. Often, larger monasteries had schools. The monasteries preserved works of art, science, and literature. They also ruled the land where the servants worked.

The monasteries of Orthodox, Old Believers and Basilians also have worked in Lithuania. Orthodox monks had their monasteries in Trakai (already in 1384), in Vievis (operated from the 14th century to 1810), in Surdegis (Holy Spirit Monastery emerged at the first half of the 17th century and operated until 1915), in Vilnius (from 1609, the monastery of the Holy Spirit has been operating until now), in Kėdai­niai (operated from the middle of the 17th century to 1798), in Kruonis (operated from the second half of the 18th century until 1810), in Pažaislis (operated in 1842–1914 at the captured Camaldool monas­tery). The female Orthodox monastery was functioning in Antaliepte in 1893–1914. At the beginning of World War I, Orthodox monasteries were evacuated to Russia, but later some of the monks returned. In contemporary Lithuania Orthodox Holy Spirit Men’s Monastery and Mary Magdalene Women’s Monaste­ry are operating in Vilnius.

The Old Believers monastery in Gudiškiai (Ignalina district) was active at 1728–1755. An important center of the Old Believers operated from the second half of 18th century until 1841 in Degučiai (Zarasai district). The Unitarian Basilian Monastery in Vilnius was founded at the beginning of the 17th century. The Basilian monasteries also functioned in Kruonis (from 1629 to the first half of the 19th century), in Padubysys (from 1753 to the liquidation in 1835, the town was named Bazilionai according the name of the Basilians).

History of Church