There are a few different legends about when the Cathedral was actually founded.
1) One legend tells us that Jogailla in 1387 gave order that a cathedral should be built on the site where the people had long been worshipping the God of Thunder, Perkunas. According to this legend this should have been the first church being build in Lithuania.
2) Another legend has it that Grand Duke Mindaugas founded it already in 1251, the same year he got baptised.
Many things points out the latter theory to be right because archeologists have found a brick building with a square tower, dated from this time. BUT, even the first mentioned theory could be true. Mindaugas let himself get baptised, but after just a short spell he turned back to his former faith and then he might have had the church demolished.
At any rate, what we see today dates from the late 18th century. A number of large statues decorate the facade, among them the patron saints of the Cathedral, St Stanislav and St Vladislav.
Inside there are 11 chapels, the most noteworthy being the chapel of St Casimir (the same Casimir who has got a church named in his name). In the chapel is the coffin with his body. He died in 1484. Beneath the coffin there is a picture of him, showing him with three hands.
It is said it took the employed Italian masters altogether, believe it or not, 14 years to fulfil the decorations in the chapel!!
The cathedral is open from 09.00 to 20.00, daily.
I have posted a link above to a map. I have to use the position for the Gediminas Monument (which is just ~50m south-east of the cathedral) since Google Maps has placed the cathedral and the whole square some 5-600m wrong, at the Town Hall Square!!!
The Vilnius cathedral, is rather at odds with the rest of the churches in Vilnius. It is far more contempary looking and feeling than any other church in Vilinus. Perhaps this has to do with the fact that the cathedral was confiscated from the church during the Russian era and used as an art gallery, something it would be well suited to.
I found it well different, and not what I expected
The history begun in the middle of the 13th century when the Lithuanian King Mindaugas converted to Christianity and built a Christian temple on the spot where the Cathedral of Vilnius now stands. Parts of the current cathedral are from the middle of the 15th century, but it has been rebuilt, modified and extended many times during the years, and the cathedral got its present appearance in the late 18th century when it was reconstructed in Neoclassical style.
The inside of the cathedral is white and bright, and filled with religious paintings dating from the 16th through 19th centuries. And the Chapel of Saint Casimir (with his sarcophagus) is very detailed and beautiful. Well worth a visit.
The Cathedral Square is the main square of Vilnius Old Town, and here you'll find the Cathedral's Bell Tower (57 meters high), a bronze-monument to Gediminas (one of the first rulers of Lithuania), and the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania (the Royal Palace).
Vilnius Cathedral is located in the Cathedral Square. Coming out of Gedimino Avenue you can’t help of noticing the Greek architecture of Vilnius Cathedral, combining with the Bell Tower it has to be one of the most impressive structures in Vilnius.
According to Ancient manuscript a pagan sacrificial stone stood where the cathedral is now located, I wonder how many animal were sacrificed to thunder God Perkunas. In the middle of the 13th century the Lithuanian King Mindaugas erected the first Christian cathedral but when he died the cathedral once again became a pagan temple.
Throughout her career she has been destroyed several times and during Soviet occupation the three saints was destroyed and for a while the cathedral was used as a warehouse.
As Soviet power declining the cathedral were resurrected, restored and returned to the Catholic Church. In 1996 the replica of the three saints was replaced on the roof of the cathedral.
Today the cathedral is favorite tourist attraction and an important meeting point for Lithuanians.
The Cathedral of Vilnius has had quite an interesting past life due to the influences of Paganism and Soviet oppression - It has operated as an Art Gallery, Warehouse and possibly a car repair workshop!
The first Cathedral was built on this site in 1251 by the fickle Grand Duke Mindaugas (Lithuanias only crowned king) who had recently converted to Christianity (being rewarded with the title Bishop of Lithuania) but then wavered between Paganism and Christianity until his death in 1263, when the Cathedral returned to pagan use. The Cathedral was built on the site of an old pagan temple (as most of Vilnius's churches appear to have been) This was thought to be a Temple to Perkūnas, the Fire God
With the conversion to Christianity of Lithuania in 1387, it was handed back to the Catholic church. A new church was constructed on this site, but it burnt down in 1419. Through the centuries churches on this sight were enlarged. burnt down, damaged by warfare, rebuilt in regular cycles.
The 1419 church has some features remaining in the present building. However, the majority of the structure seen today is the work of Laurynas Stuoka Gucevicius, who was Lithuanias first 'true architect' He designed the Neo-Classical Cathedral with its distinctive 'Temple' facade. If you think it looks similar to the Town Hall, that's because he designed this too, along with other buildings in the city.
It's quite elegant and stands out as a contrast to the many overly ornate churches of the city. My first view of the Cathedral was from the Right hand side, when I assumed that it was an art gallery or museum, with the many statues displayed in niches.
It certainly resembles a Greek temple from the front.
There are some good examples of stucco work in figurines and decoration.(pic 4)
The 3 statues above the portico were added originally in the 18th century (Between 1786 and 1792). They are of the Saints Stanislaus, Helena and Casimir, representing Poland, Russia and Lithuania respectively, and were the work of Kazimierz Jelski.
They were removed in 1950 and lost by the Soviet occupiers, when the Cathedral was confiscated. The Cathedral was plundered, with damage to the organ. It became a warehouse before being abandoned for years. It was taken over by the Museum of Art in a state of extreme damage and neglect.
On October 22nd 1988 the Cathedral was returned to the Catholic Church, when it was re-consecrated on 5th February 1989. It was renovated shortly after the Restoration of Independence.
The statues were restored in 1997, sadly they are copies of the originals.
In 2006 and 2008 the Cathedral and bell tower underwent an intensive renovation programme.
I was quite interested to read about the Latin inscription over the Valaviciai Chapel - apparently it's 'a curse' "Violator operis infelix esto" (Those who desecrate this creation will be unhappy).
Apparently archeologists who subsequently explored the ancient layers of the previous cathedrals tended to die rather suddenly!
Perhaps reflecting its position at the border of Lutheranism, the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Vilnius is an austere white neo-classical building with a understated interior of regimented columns. There's little of the brash ostentation of other Eastern European churches, like the golden domed basilicas of Hungary. But that doesn't make the building any less dramatic. In fact its uniqueness, emphasised by its free standing belfry, makes it stand out all the more. It not only dominates the Cathedral square, but makes itself the focal point of the entire city.
All roads lead to Rome, and in Vilnius they all seem to lead to the Roman Catholic Cathedral. It's easy to imagine how the Grand Dukes of Lithuania, back when the country was the largest empire in Europe, would have paraded down Gediminas Avenue to be coronated here under the watchful eye of the great castle on the hill. The lower part of that castle, within which the cathedral was built, no longer remains, except for the distinctive white belfry; a defense tower, like Gediminas tower that remains above, was converted into the bell tower you see today.
A fine place just to stroll and people-watch is Cathedral Square. You'll find tourists mingling with locals and playing children as you enjoy the 57 meter tall belfry, the Cathedral itself, a statue of Gediminas, and excellent views of Three Crosses Hill. The best time to come is on a clear day near sunset, but it's a worthwhile place to visit any time of day.
The Cathedral was first built in 1387, with the latest version completed in 1801. During Soviet rule, the building was turned into an art museum, then reconsecrated as a Cathedral in 1989. The interior is normally open to the public daily from 7am - 7:30pm, but the church was apparently closed for a special event when I visited.
One of Vilnius' main landmarks is the white Cathedral (Arkikatedra Bazilika). The current structure dates back to the early 15th century, but as most churches in Vilnius it suffered many fires.
In the 18th century the building got its French-classicist appearance. During the Soviet area the Cathedral was used as an art gallery, but returned to the Catholic Church in 1990.
The Cathedral is topped by three saints. They are replicas of the original ones, which were thrown away by the Soviets in 1950.
When we visited Vilnius in summer 2006, the 52 m high free-standing belfry was unfortunately completely scaffolded. During our second visit in summer 2011 the belfry was completely renovated.
The Cathedral with its freestanding belfry can be found at the western end of Gediminas Hill.
Address: Cathedral, Katedros a. 1, Vilnius
Don't waste a chance to visit the vaults of the Cathedral once you're there. Buy a ticket from the watching lady (souvenir stand, right side of the Cathedral), which costs ~4 Lt (~1,16 EUR; ~1,4 USD), and join the guided tour! :) The guide will take you through the whole history of Cathedral, spicying up pure historical facts with some piquant stories from Lithuania's ancient nobility :))
You'll find out that Cathedral was demolished 5 times(!) down to the ground, and rebuilt every time after. Thus what we see today - is already the 6th variation of it... The interior of the Cathedral was remade 11 times and today we walk on the 12th floor of it ;)
Can you imagine that 5th Cathedral was even 10 meters higher than the present one?!?
The Vilnius Cathedral (Arkikatedra Bazilika) or the Cathedral of Saint Stanislaus was not the most beautiful cathedral I've ever seen from the outside or rather maybe its Classsical style was not my favourite. Anyway, it was huge, impressive and surprisingly very bright white building completed in 1801 at the place of former gothic, brick church (15th c.) and earlier wooden church (1387).
Well, the interiors of the cathedral with many remains of glorious history of the most powerful country of 16th century Europe were much more interested for me.
The most important church of Lithuania, where many Lithuanian dukes were coronated and burried had a very impressive front facade in typical Classical style.
The powerful columns supported classical tympanum. What's that?
Top, triangle-shape area of front facade of ancient Greek and Roman temple was called tympanum and usually was covered by frescos or sculptures. Tympanum (plural "tympani") was often used in quite later architecture styles: Renaissance and neo-clasicism especially, which both partly imitated ancient architecture. I could easy see it in front facade of the Vilnius Cathedral.
There were three large statues put on the top of facade of Vilnius Cathedral at the beginning of 19th century: of St. Stanislaus, St. Helen and St. Casimir. They survived Russian tsars, German and Polish troops and all uprisings, wars etc. till, hmm... in 1950, the Soviets closed the cathedral, knocked the statues off and destroyed them.
Then, they were reconstructed (from pictures) by sculpturer Stanislovas Kuzma and finally put back on their right places when Lithuania regained independance.
Surely I wanted to walk around the Vilnius Cathedral but I could see only its front (western) and southern part. The rest was closed, fenced because of reconstruction works of the nearby Lower Castle.
Anyway, pay attention to the two large, impressive and almost identical domes located at the back (eastern) corners of the cathedral. They covered:
- the St. Casimir Chapel - real highlight of the cathedral I liked a lot - on its southeastern corner,
- the sacristy/vestry (closed to the public and fenced area now) on its northeastern corner.
This lantern on my picture was put on the top of the dome of St. Casimir Chapel. Nice observation point it had to be.
The Vilnius Cathedral was and still is the most monumental edifice at this part of our globe, at least in Lithuania and Poland. Its western portal consisted of six very thick (look at my picture) doric columns which supported triangle-shape tympanum.
The cathedral was the most classicistic building in the whole Commonwealth of the Two Nations: Poland and Lithuania.
Surely I wanted to walk around the Vilnius Cathedral but I could see only its front (western) and southern part. The rest was closed, fenced because of reconstruction works of the nearby Lower Castle. They plan to finish the renovation works there by... 2009.
Anyway, on the sothern wall of the cathedral I could see many statues of Lithuanian and Polish dukes and kings. They were put inside niches among cathedral columns.