Global True Lithuania Encyclopedia of Lithuanian heritage worldwide

Rome and Italy

Rome has been the center of Catholic world for 2000 years. In the Middle Ages, this also meant the political heart of Europe. With the Christianization of Lithuania (13th-15th centuries) the Grand Dukes of Lithuania participated in many then-important deliberations: possible Catholic-Orthodox union, wars against Ottomans. Rome's importance continued throughout the 20th century when the Vatican refused to recognize the Soviet occupation of Lithuania (1940-1990) and the church supported Lithuanians' plight for freedom.

In 1970 when the Soviet military might and human rights abuses made it hard to even dream about free Lithuania the Vatican opened a Lithuanian chapel in its famous St. Peter Basilica (the most important Catholic church in the world). Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn proudly hangs behind its altar (a copy of a sacred painting that is the religious heart of Vilnius), giving its name to the chapel (which is also known as Lithuanian Martyrs chapel). Walls are decorated in bas-reliefs of Lithuanian rulers, bishops, martyrs, saints, first Lithuanian churches, and patriotic symbols, all created by Lithuanian-American sculptor V. Jonynas. Large Rūpintojėlis (a traditional Lithuanian figure of a sad God) by Italian Alcide Ticò fails to fully adhere to the convention. Travertine stone is used for all decor akin to the Roman catacombs where early Christians used to hide from Imperial persecutions (events that were a 1700-year-old history in Rome but a modern truth in Lithuania where Soviets led a major anti-Christian drive which included murdering the religious).

Consecration of the chapel was attended by 500 Lithuanians - all of them emigrants (from North and South America, Western Europe, Australia, and Africa) as the Soviet occupational regime forbade most Lithuanians from traveling to the Western world. The idea of the Lithuanian chapel was therefore developed by the emigrants and they were a prime source of pilgrimages to the chapel for the upcoming 20 years. After Lithuanian independence (1990) Lithuanian citizens were quick to discover the Eternal City and this chapel (~1995 the first Lithuanian language guidebook to be published about a Western location had Rome as its topic). Popes pray at the Lithuanian chapel as well - it was one of the first locations where the Polish pope John Paul II prayed after being elected.

Beautiful Villa Lituania is another building in Rome that is closely related to the Soviet occupation of Lithuania. It is commonly referred to as the "Final occupied territory of Lithuania". This estate at Via Nomentana 116 which includes a 90 are park has been bought by Lithuania in 1937 (for 3 million liras) to serve as an embassy. However in 1945 Italy illegally transferred the building to the Soviets under Soviet pressure. Russian diplomats still use the building. Italian government recognize the illegality of its predecessor's actions but could not offer restitution instead of suggesting some alternative proposals (a cheap lease of a derelict building further away from downtown) that were not acceptable to the Lithuanian side.

Diplomats at Villa Lituania. The building, surrounded by a park, still exists although trees largely cover it from the street. Historical image.

Villa Lituania is also a name of a Catholic guest house (Piazza Asti 25). Its impressive historical towered facade is crowned by the Lithuanian coat of arms, its balustrades by crosses of Vytis. Administered by St. Casimir nuns, the institution helps Lithuanians to see the Pope while a local chapel celebrates the Lithuanian holy mass. The building also houses the Lithuanian St. Casimir College, the home to Lithuanian priests in Rome.

Villa Lituania palatial guest house in Rome. Google Street View.

Lithuanians work in other Catholic institutions as well. Radio Vatican offers some programming in the Lithuanian language.

Through the centuries of Christian Lithuania, the burial grounds of Eternal City had many famous Lithuanians interred. St. Lawrence (Verano) cemetery includes a chapel of St. Casimir Lithuanian College where these people lie: bishop Vincentas Podolskis, a signatory of Lithuanian independence declaration priest Kazimieras Šaulys, leader of Lithuanian-Italian community priest Vincas Mincevičius, Lithuanian ambassador to the Holy See Stasys Girdvainis, chairman of the American Lithuanian charity fund Juozas Končius, Lithuanian Brazilian general vicar and vice-rector of the St. Casimir Lithuanian college Zenonas Ignatavičius, priest Jonas Buikus, deacon Augustinas Lišauskas, and nun Eulalia.

One of the most visited churches of Rome Chiesa del Gesù (the heart of the Jesuits) is also the final resting place of the first Lithuanian cardinal and a bishop of Vilnius Jurgis Radvila (epitaphy on the floor: "Cardinalis Radzivili Episcopi Cravoviensis Ducis Olicae Et Niesvisii" - "Cardinal Radvila, the Bishop of Cracow and Duke of Olyka and Nesvyžius"). In the peak of his career, he was one of the Europe's important elite and he died in the Eternal City in 1600. It is symbolic that this church is considered to be the first Baroque church in the world and Baroque would later have a major architectural impact over Vilnius. By the way, the second Baroque church in the world was built in Nesvyžius (modern-day Belarus), in a manor owned by Radvila family.

From these times until some 1930s nobles and priests used to be the Lithuanians who explored Rome the most. The first sizeable gentile community was formed in the 1940s when post-war refugees arrived in Rome. It soon established ties not just with the Vatican but also with Italian Christian Democrats. Disregarding the protests of local far-left activists the Christian Democrats supported Lithuanian independence. A relic of these times is a square in Rome named Piazza Lituania.

Lithuanian heritage in Italy otside Rome

While Rome has always been the center of both Italy and the Lithuanian life there, the Lithuanians for centuries spilled beyond the city of Rome itself: after all, Italy as a whole served as a major center of art, science, faith, and civilization.

This was true for pre-modern intellectuals and post-WW2 refugees alike but it may be truer than ever today, as the post-1990 emigration wave created Lithuanian communities in various places in Italy.

One of the more active Lithuanian communities is in Tuscany. Among the first known emigrants from Lithuania living there was a famous Polish-Lithuanian composer Mykolas Kleopas Oginskis (Polish: Michał Kleofas Ogiński), who served as a treasurer of Lithuania before the Russian Empire annexed the country (1795) and fled to Italy in 1815 after it became clear that the Russian Imperial rule in Lithuania would not end anytime soon; Oginskis's grave is in Santa Croce basilica next to such luminaries as Galileo Galilei, Michelangelo, and Giacomo Rossini.

The Lithuanian honorary consul there ensured that a street of Florence was named Via Lituania in 2016, commemorating 25 years since the Italian recognition of the Lithuanian independence restoration.

In Bardi (Emigla-Romagna), there is a Lithuanian chapel-post (koplytsulpis), Lituania street, and a Lithuanian Hall (Sala Lituania) in the local Youth House. The relations between this town and Lithuanians were kickstarted by a Lithuanian priest Vincas Mincevičius and a local Italian cardinal Antonio Samore who was from Bardi. Antonio Samore worked as a Vatican diplomat in Lithuania in 1932-1938 and fell in love with Lithuanian culture. After Lithuania was occupied by the Soviets and many Lithuanian priests were forced to leave Westwards (or face exile at the Soviet hands), priest Vincas Mincevičius ended up in Italy, helping Antonio Samore in his work there. Celebrating his lost homeland and Antonio Samore's service there, Vincas Mincevičius ordered a traditional Lithuanian wooden chapel-post (koplytstulpis) in Bardi in 1962, celebrating the 30 years since Antonio Samore began his service in Lithuania. This chapel-post was made by an Italian artist Adolfo Valazza. However, it has been destroyed by a landslide and replaced several times, with the current Lithuanian chapel-post dating to 2007 and created by a Lithuanian folk artist Vytautas Ulevičius. Antonio Samore would has also funded various public buildings in his hometown, such as a kindergarten, a care facilty for the elderly, and the Youth House. Vincas Mincevičius tried to add Lithuanian details to these, with the most impressive being Sala Lituania in the Youth House, which includes artworks such as the map of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Vytis, rulers of Medieval Lithunia. In 2022, a commemorative plaque for Vincas Mincevičius was attached to the Youth House of Bardi.

A street named after Lithuania also exists in Grossetto, Tuscany, while a square was named after Lithuania in 2021 in Torri in Sabina, Tuscany.

Sicilian capital of Palermo has a Lithuanian square since 2016, while the Sicilian town of Barrafranca has Lithuania - Hill of Crosses square [piazza Lituania – Collina delle Croci] since 2012 when it was named so to commemorate the friendship between the local diocese and diocese of Šiauliai (Hill of Crosses near Šiauliai is an important sight and symbol of Lithuania).

There is a Lithuanian chapel-post in Aosta Valley (45.7997, 7.5843).

Click to learn more about Lithuania: Europe (West), Italy, Rome, Vatican 8 Comments
Comments (8) Trackbacks (0)
  1. noretumem rugsejo6-7 dienomis pakrikstiti 4iu metu mergaite Ievute

    • Laba diena. Čia nėra oficialus lietuvių kunigų Romoje tinklapis, o tik informacinis tinklapis; tartis reikėtų su kunigais.

  2. Sveiki,
    kažin kodėl čia įprastai vadinami Vyčio kryžiai, tapę vienu iš Lietuvos Valstybės simbolių, vadinami Jogailos kryžiais?
    Algis Urbonas

    • Kiek man žinoma, vartojami ir pavadinimai “Jogailos kryžius”, “Jogailaičių kryžius”. Tačiau jūs teisus, kad šiandien “Vyčio kryžius” labiausiai žinomas pavadinimas, todėl pakoregavau tekstą.

  3. we stayed at this villa lituani guesthouse in august 1998 for 3 nights, before flying on to vilnius – it’s actually run by italian-speaking nuns (and interestingly some german-speakers) who’re maybe sisters of st casimir affiliated, but the only lith speakers there were the priests we met.
    absolutely loved the place – off the beaten path (tho the metro was just outside the doors) the rooms are austere, looking like priests’ cells (and dirt cheap, then, at least), but off the hallway, there’s a wide balcony at the 3rd floor level which goes around 2 sides of the bldg and was wonderful for observing rome’s street life while having cheese bread and a couple of bottles of wine.
    the continental breakfast served also included the best italian coffee i’ve ever tatsed in my life.
    my first time ever in europe and it was exactly what i needed to see.

  4. Ar Piazza Lituania dar veikiair priema svečius?

  5. Muitas vezes me instalei neste recinto (hotel) muito bem recebidos pelas irmãs bem como um preço razoavél.

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