It's A Dramatic Story
Every year on September 13 Lithuanian maltesers are comming to Šiluva to pray. They are bringing together their beneficiaries and handicapped persons as well . For those people this is the only possibility to visit this saint place and to take part in holy Mass.
Grand Master of the Order of Malta Fra’Matthew Festing joined them on September 13 2011 with his delegation and prayed together. In Šiluva Grand Master met Archbishop of Kaunas Sigitas Tamkevičius and Lithuanian maltesers from over the country.
What makes Šiluva very special place in Lithuanian history? How this place has united Lithuanians in their fight against Soviet regime and catholic faith?
Since the beginning of the XVI century Šiluva has been famous for the indulgenced Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, popularly called “Šilinės”. Ever since that time, pilgrims have been attracted to this venerable image of the Blessed Virgin Mary holding the Child Jesus in her arms.
Šiluva is famous for the first widely known apparition of the Mother of God in Europe. This happened in a region marked with religious controversies, some of which led even to bloodshed. The Virgin Mary appeared and talked to a person of a different faith, a Calvinist. Is not this unique fact, a sign of the Lord given through His Mother, an eloquent exhortation toward Christian reconciliation?
Today Šiluva is one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Lithuania with its ancient tradition of the indulgenced Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The faithful respond to the invitation of the Mother of God to worship Her Son. The thousands who come to pray for physical and spiritual health often experience a spiritual rebirth and an opening of their hearts to God.
Šiluva first became known in the year 1457 when the nobleman Peter S. Gedgaudas built a church dedicated to the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Apostles SS. Peter and Bartholomew. Huge crowds of the faithful, even from neighboring Protestant Prussia, would flock to this site to celebrate the indulgenced Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In the middle of the XVI century the population in the vicinity of Šiluva became predominantly Calvinist. Nevertheless, as long as the old church was open, the people continued to attend the annual Feast until finally the church was closed and destroyed. Around the year 1569 the only remaining parish priest, Father John Holubka, hid all the surviving church valuables and documents in an ironclad box which he buried in the grounds of the devastated church.
The Catholics subsequently attempted legal proceedings against the Calvinists, seeking to regain the confiscated church property. The case was complicated by the fact that the Catholic ownership documents had become lost. This issue was resolved by the miraculous intervention of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who appeared on the very spot where the church had stood. After her apparition the institutional documents of the Catholic church were found, and in 1622 the case concerning the restitution of Catholic ownership was won. A small wooden church was built in the place where the original church had stood, and the famous indulgenced Feasts were reestablished. Soon the venerable image of the Blessed Virgin Mary with the Divine Child acquired miraculous fame. In 1786 a new church was built–the present Basilica of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The government of Czarist Russia tried to suppress the tradition of devotion to Our Lady in Šiluva, as the Feasts had provided an occasion to distribute illegally smuggled Lithuanian books and prayer books – in spite of the Czarist prohibition against such Lithuanian materials published in Latin characters. The celebrations in Šiluva became especially popular after the reestablishment of State independence in 1918, at which time a special committee for organizing pilgrimages was founded in Kaunas. Further development was hindered by the Soviet occupation of Lithuania in the 1940s. The Soviet regime failed to suppress the traditional devotion, although KGB officers persistently tried to hinder the pilgrimages. The opposition of the Soviet authorities culminated in 1979, when false information regarding an alleged pig epidemic was announced and all the roads leading to Šiluva were officially blocked–at the very time of the main celebrations in early September.
Throughout its long history of political shifts and foreign occupations, Šiluva has remained the center of spiritual attraction for pilgrims to Lithuania. After the reestablishment of Lithuanian independence in 1990, the traditional devotions and celebrations experienced a new revival. On September 7th, 1993, during his visit to Lithuania, Pope John Paul II made a special pilgrimage to pray at this National Shrine of Our Lady in Šiluva.
In 2003, commemorating the tenth anniversary of the pope John Paul’s II visit, Archbishop Sigitas Tamkevičius blessed a new building for pilgrims and candidates to Seminary “Jono Pauliaus II namai”.
THE APPARITION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY
The apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary occurred in 1608 or 1612. Children of the nearby village were shepherding their herd on the land where the church had formerly stood, when they saw a young woman standing on a large rock, holding a baby in her arms and weeping bitterly. One herds boy ran to Šiluva and told the Calvinist catechist about the apparition. The catechist called a teacher, named Solomon, to go with him and together they both approached the aforementioned rock. They also saw the young woman weeping, just as the children saw her. The man asked, “Why are you weeping?” She replied: “There was a time when my beloved Son was worshipped by my people here, but now they plough and sow on this very spot.” The catechist and the teacher considered the vision to be the work of an evil spirit, but news of the apparition rapidly spread throughout the area. According to one story, an elderly blind man managed to find the place where the ironclad box containing the old church treasures had been hidden. When the box was dug up, he immediately regained his eyesight.
THE BASILICA AND THE CHAPEL OF APPARITION
The present church, the Basilica of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was constructed and furnished in the third quarter of the XVIII century. The building is one of the finest examples of late Baroque architecture in Lithuania. The interior, designed by the gifted Lithuanian artist, Thomas Podgaiskis, has been preserved without significant changes for over two centuries. In 1976, Pope Paul VI conferred the honorary title of Basilica on the church. The ironclad box, found after the apparition of the Blessed Virgin, is safeguarded in the inner chapel of the Basilica.
At the beginning of the XX century a majestic tower chapel was built on the site of the Marian apparition. Standing forty meters tall, the chapel was designed by the architect Anthony Vivulskis, who also designed the Three Crosses monument in Vilnius. The altar within the Apparition chapel is constructed upon the same rock where, according to tradition, the Marian apparition took place.
THE IMAGE OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY
The image was painted in the beginning of the XVII century following the iconographic style of the old Byzantine Hodegetria. The prototype of the image is the icon Santa Maria della Neve in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome. The figures of Mother Mary and the Child Jesus are covered by a casing made from a collection of votive offerings by the famous goldsmith Lawrence Hoffman of Koenigsberg. On September 8, 1786, with the permission of Pope Pius VI, Bishop Stephen J. Giedraitis presided at the coronation of the image.
In 2002–2003, the painting of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Šiluva was thoroughly restored at the Pranas Gudynas Center of Restoration at the Lithuanian Museum of Art. After the restoration the painting regained its original beauty, revealing its pristine artistic value.
The octave of indulgenced celebrations begins annually on September 8th. Pilgrims traditionally arrive in processions from Tytuvėnai and Raseiniai. Each day of the octave is devoted to a particular theme or group, such as the military, police, health care personnel, institutional church workers, families, children and youth, the sick, and respect for human life. During the entire octave, various events are organized as well, such as catechetical teachings, religious performances, video sessions and concerts.