Global True Lithuania Encyclopedia of Lithuanian heritage worldwide

Uruguay

Uruguay is the smallest American country to have significant Lithuanian heritage.

Some 5000 – 10000 Lithuanians immigrated to Uruguay between WW1 and WW2. Most of them settled in Montevideo.

Montevideo thus has significant Lithuanian heritage. The most important among it is the Our Lady of Fatima Lithuanian church (1954), Lithuanian cultural society building (1941) and the Republic of Lithuania square (~1960).

Cerro district (east of downtown) forms the heart of Montevideo Lithuanian community and heritage. An industrial center, the district attracted numerous other European ethnicities as well between WW1 and WW2. At that time, Uruguay was richer than most European countries.

Montevideo Lithuanian culturla society building with a Lithuanian mural

Montevideo Lithuanian cultural society building with a Lithuanian mural

Our Lady of Fatima Lithuanian church

Our Lady of Fatima Lithuanian church (address: Bélgica 1765) is the most impressive Lithuanian building in Cerro of Montevideo and entire Uruguay.

Montevideo Lithuanian church

Montevideo Lithuanian church

At the time the church was constructed (1952), Lithuania was recently occupied by the Soviet Union. This inclined Uruguay Lithuanians to create an especially Lithuanian interior in order to create a small piece of Lithuania outside of the lost homeland. Although the church is modern from the outside, its interior thus reminds of some small Baroque church typical to the UNESCO-inscribed Old Town of Lithuania’s capital Vilnius.

 Montevideo Lithuanian church interior

Montevideo Lithuanian church interior

Grand stained glass windows of the church are full of Lithuanian symbols, even secular ones.

One of the windows depicts the most famous buildings of Lithuania’s largest cities Vilnius and Kaunas (Vilnius Cathedral, the Three Crosses monument, the castle of Gediminas [all in Vilnius], Kaunas Ressurection church, Kaunas Vytautas church that still didn’t have the current high tower).

Another stained glass window depicts Our Lady of Vilnius (a miraculous painting of Virgin Mary in Vilnius) and the Gate of Dawn where the painting is located; the tricolor flag of Lithuania; the Lithuanian crops; Vilnius coat of arms.

A fragment of a stained glass window in Montevideo Lithuanian church

A fragment of a stained glass window in Montevideo Lithuanian church

A fragment of a stained glass window in Montevideo Lithuanian church

A fragment of a stained glass window in Montevideo Lithuanian church

The third stained glass window depicts St. Casimir (Lithuania’s patron saint), Lithuanian Coat of arms and the old coat of arms of Kaunas (European bison).

The church has been constructed in the 1950s when Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union and many of these patriotic symbols were banned, giving their placement in free Uruguay special importance.

There are 5 additional stained glass windows that are less related to Lithuania.

Another Lithuanian stained glass window is located above the choir and organ. It depicts a cross made out of Lithuanian tricolors.

 Montevideo Lithuanian church stained-glass window above the choir

Montevideo Lithuanian church stained-glass window above the choir

Lithuania is also depicted in the murals around the altar. On the one side, Vilnius (Cathedral, the castle of Gediminas) is depicted. On the opposite side, there is the world-famous Hill of Crosses near Šiauliai.

Closer to the entrance there as a Lithuanian altar to the Virgin Mary. The vault of the church is painted in Lithuanian patterns.

The altar of the Lithuanian church of Montevideo with murals on the sides

The altar of the Lithuanian church of Montevideo with murals on the sides

Lithuanian words also adorn all the stations of the cross that represent the final moments of Jesus’s life. On them, the Spanish inscriptions describe these final moments (e.g. „Jesus falls the second time“), however, the Lithuanian inscriptions are not direct translations but rather prayers to God (e.g. „Raise me from my sins“).

Lithuanian station of the cross in Montevideo Lithuanian church

Lithuanian station of the cross in Montevideo Lithuanian church

Church walls have Lithuanian commemorative plaques to the numerous Lithuanian priests that served the church: the founder of the church Vladas Mikalauskas (1918-1956), the final Lithuanian priest of Montevideo Jonas Giedrys (1921-1998). After Giedrys’s departure Montevideo church no longer has a Lithuanian mass, although for some years after his death a semi-Lithuanian mass used to be celebrated (there, the priest would speak English but the congregation would speak Lithuanian). During some festivals, the semi-Lithuanian mass is still held. The church continues to be served by Jesuit priests. However, after Lithuania restored its independence from the Soviet Union (1990), the center of Lithuanian Jesuit activity moved to Lithuania, so the current Jesuits who control the church are non-Lithuanian Uruguayans. By the way, in 2013 a second plaque for Jonas Giedrys has been unveiled in the church (near the altar, in both Lithuanian and Spanish). A Lithuanian tricolor still stands beside the altar.

Priest Mikalauskas memorial plaque in the Lithuanian church of Uruguay

Priest Mikalauskas memorial plaque in the Lithuanian church of Uruguay

 Priest Giedrys memorial plaque in the Lithuanian church of Uruguay

Priest Giedrys memorial plaque in the Lithuanian church of Uruguay

Yet another memorial plaque in the church reminds the Lithuanian-Uruguayan artist Viktoras Dorelis (Spanish-only).

The exterior of the church is adorned by a wooden traditional Lithuanian cross (a UNESCO-World-Heritage-inscribed art form). Over the entrance under the Virgin Mary statue, a Spanish inscription declares „Our Lady of Fatima parish. The church constructed for the exiled Lithuanians in 1954 10 31“. At the time, most of the Lithuanian diaspora was seen as „exiled people“ as, due to the Soviet occupation of Lithuania, they were unable to return to Lithuania without facing persecutions or death.

Except for the aforementioned details, the church exterior is modern and not Lithuanian; it has been created by a local architect Perez del Castillo.

Lithuanian church of uruguay with a tradtional Lithuanian cross next to it

Lithuanian church of uruguay with a tradtional Lithuanian cross next to it

The Montevideo Lithuanian church is open only for the Holy Mass (Saturdays and Sundays).

The church construction has been supported by Lithuanian-Americans. As the Lithuanian-Uruguayan community was rather small (some 50000-10000 people immigrated in the interwar years) and poorer than the Lithuanian-American community. Still, Lithuanian-Uruguayans also donated for the church what they could. The names of the donors now adorn every pew and stained glass window.

Cerro Lithuanian cultural society

Cerro Lithuanian club (Cultural society) at Rio de Janeiro street 4001 may look to be just a simple 1-floored edifice from the front but it has a long Lithuanian history. Before World War 2 already the building housed Jonas Basanavičius Lithuanian school. It was funded by the Republic of Lithuania in order to keep Lithuanian spirit and culture among Lithuanian-Uruguayans.

In 1940, however, the Soviet Union has occupied Lithuania and so the school quickly folded without its support. In 1941, however, the building was acquired by Lithuanian-Uruguayan Cultural Society, thus saving its Lituanity.

 Montevideo Lithuanian club

Montevideo Lithuanian club

The club has a multitude in rooms which serve as a hub of the entire Lithuanian activities in Uruguay. There, Lithuanian language lessons, Lithuanian exhibits and events take place, Lithuanian choirs, dance troupes, craftsmen troupes used to rehearse or still rehearses. There is the main event hall, many Lithuanian symbols. The club survives financially not only on Lithuanian donations but also by renting outs its premises and by owning a public bar in the front of the building.

One of the halls of Montevideo Lithuanian club

One of the halls of Montevideo Lithuanian club

At first, the Lithuanian Cultural Society used to be socialist (not communist; while being leftist, it supported Lithuania‘s independence). Eventually, it was also joined by Catholic Lithuanians who generally had their community based around the Lithuanian church.

For long, the Lithuanian club had no Lithuanian details in its exterior. On 2019 02 16, however, while celebrating the Lithuanian independence day, the club has converted one of its walls into a ~40-meter long mural. Local Lithuanian artist Gabriel Vuljevas led the work.

A part of the Lithuanian mural of the Montevideo Lithuanian club

A part of the Lithuanian mural of the Montevideo Lithuanian club

A part of the Lithuanian mural of the Montevideo Lithuanian club

A part of the Lithuanian mural of the Montevideo Lithuanian club

The mural contains many Lithuanian symbols. From left to right: a traditional Lithuanian cross (UNESCO-inscribed artwork), Easter eggs, folk costume, Užgavėnės carnival mask, basketball balls, Lithuanian (and Uruguayan flags), hills in the colors of Lithuanian flag, a Medieval castle, Three crosses (representing the Three crosses monument in Vilnius), amber.

Cerro Lithuanian club is open every day, especially in the evenings when the bar is open. Lithuanians who arrive at the club, even from other countries, are generally welcome to visit all the premises although it is better to agree on time so people would be inside.

Cerro immigrant heritage

Cerro district on the other side of a gulf from Montevideo downtown has been established in 1838 and became the prime zone for immigrants. Thus, the streets and squares there are named after foreign countries. There is a small Lituania street and, not far from it, a Republic of Lithuania school.

The center of Cerro is marked by Immigrant square with a general sculpture of an immigrant (brought in on December 1987).

Cerro Immigrant square and memorial. Before the construction of Lithuanian church, Cerro Lithuanians used to attend the church in this square

Cerro Immigrant square and memorial. Before the construction of Lithuanian church, Cerro Lithuanians used to attend the church in this square

Surnames from many nations (among them many Lithuanian surnames) may be found in Cerro cemetery.

Every year, Montevideo hosts Immigrant festivals and once in two years, Immigrant Olympics. The so-called „immigrants“ in this case are actually grandchildren and great-grandchildren of immigrants (they should probably be more accurately referred to as minorities but the term immigrant stuck in Uruguay and is used with pride by those representing the communities even though they were all born citizens of Uruguay). As Cerro district is not rich and not very safe, many immigrant clubs

Cerro slaughterhouses that once were the main attraction for Lithuanians to immigrate to Montevideo have now all closed but it is still possible to see their remains. One of the more impressive ruins is visible from Jose Gurvich street next to the ocean.

 Abandoned slaughterhouse where many Uruguay Lithuanians used to work at as seen from the Jose Gurvich street

Abandoned slaughterhouse where many Uruguay Lithuanians used to work at as seen from the Jose Gurvich street

Republic of Lithuania square and Lithuanian sites in central Montevideo

Although most of Uruguay‘s primary Lithuanian sites are in Cerro, one of the most important - Republic of Lithuania square (Plaza Republica de Lituania) – is not far away from central Montevideo.

The square has two monuments. The older one - Stone adorned in columns of Gediminas (a traditional patriotic symbol of Lithuania) and an inscription that it has been gifted by the Lithuanian community of Uruguay.

Senasis Lietuvos paminklas Lietuvos Respublikos aikštėje

The old Lithuanian monument in the Republic of Lithuania plaza of Montevideo

The other, newer, is an abstract sculpture „Into the third millennium“, the metal forms of which symbolize hands in prayer position. To commemorate the Lithuanian independence restoration day (March 11th) of 2002, the sculpture has been gifted by a Lithuanian sculptor Eduardo Lopaitis who created it together with Jose Erman. A Spanish plaque tells that the sculpture was given by the Republic of Lithuania to the Oriental Republic of Uruguay.

 New Lithuanian monument in the Republic of Lithuania Plaza of Montevideo

New Lithuanian monument in the Republic of Lithuania Plaza of Montevideo

The square has been established around 1960. As Uruguay had never recognized the Soviet occupation of Lithuania, it allowed such symbolic initiatives.

That‘s why Uruguay hosted one of merely a few legations of Lithuania that were not closed during the cold war. It was moved to Uruguay from Argentina after Argentina has recognized the occupation of Lithuania. The legation closed in 1977 after the last Lithuanian diplomat who joined the diplomatic service before the Soviet occupation of Lithuania has died.

The central Montevideo also has Jose Gurvich museum (while Cerro has a street named after Jose Gurvich).

Gurvich was a Jew born in Lithuania (town of Jieznas) while his real name was Zusmanas Gurvičius (with Lithuanian endings). However, Zusmanas was taken away from Lithuania by his parents when he was just 5 years old (1932), therefore, he did not have many memories of Lithuania, he did not speak Lithuanian, and Lithuania is not present in his works. However, the museum regularly mentions the fact that he was born in Lithuania.

The total numbers of Lithuania‘s Jews who moved into Uruguay are unclear. They do not participate in common activities with Lithuanians and have assimilated into a wider Jewish community of Uruguay. However, that community itself have dwindled by well over 50% these years as many Jews have emigrated to Israel (Gurvich himself has also emigrated to Israel and USA eventually). Some Lithuanian-Uruguayans also emigrate from Uruguay to Lithuania or Spain.

Gurvich work in Gurvich museum, following a typical Gurvich style where larger figures are composed of seemingly unrelated smaller things

A Gurvich work in Gurvich museum, following a typical Gurvich style where larger figures are composed of seemingly unrelated smaller things

A large abandoned building in Montevideo old town near the port is Immigrant guesthouse where, once they arrived, immigrants (Lithuanians included) would freely stay for a few days until they could find jobs.

Abandoned Montevideo Immigrant guesthouse near the port of Montevideo

Abandoned Montevideo Immigrant guesthouse near the port of Montevideo

By the way, previously the Lithuanian community also had a campsite in Shangrila suburb where Lithuanian youth used to congregate. At the beginning of the 21st century, the campsite was sold.

Uruguay Lithuanian communist clubs and memorial

Although Uruguay had many Lithuanians who supported a free-from-the-Soviets Lithuania, Uruguay‘s Lithuanian community also possibly had the largest communist influence among all the Lithuanian communities in foreign countries. Their influence was one of the reasons why the Lithuanian church was established so late in Montevideo.

Uruguay actually had two Lithuanian communist clubs – one near Republic of Lithuania square and another one in Cerro (near the corner of Grecia and Ecuador). This one was established later, ~1950, when Uruguay‘s Lithuanian communists were also supported by the Soviet Union.

 Lithuanian communist club in Cerro

Lithuanian communist club in Cerro

Both clubs have been closed in 1975 by the Uruguayan government as a reaction to communism that was spreading in Latin America (revolution of Cuba, etc.). In that time, the Uruguayan government was deposed by military and communism was banned. Although at least one building of the former communist club remains, there is nothing proving its past.

There were also Lithuanians who have joined the local far left of Uruguay – the Tupamaros movement that fought against the Uruguayan government and elite. The organization used to be especially strong in Cerro district and they used to call the borderline between Cerro and the rest of Montevideo to be „latitude 38“ (analogous to the real 38 northern latitudes that separated South and North Koreas). There, Tupamaros used to fight police, perform bank heists, policemen killings, human abductions, and other counter-government and counter-business operations. Many far left activists themselves were killed or disappeared during the conflict (disappearance typically meant death as, at that time in Latin America, the authorities would typically not return the bodies of those who, for example, were shot by police, to their relatives; often, it is still not clear where such people are buried). One of the „disappeared ones“ was Viktorija Grišonaitė (Grišonas).

In the early 21st century, after the Uruguayan politics turned left, a memorial to the disappeared ones has been constructed in Cerro. It includes the name of Viktorija (as Victoria Grisonas).

Viktorija Grišonaitė name on the memorial to the disappeared ones

Viktorija Grišonaitė name on the memorial to the disappeared ones

Interestingly, Grišonaitė did not descend herself from a Lithuanian family with far-left beliefs. On the contrary – her father was a secretary in the Lithuanian legation to Uruguay and he worked lots in order to liberate Lithuania and to condemn communism.

By the way, at least one Lithuanian (Ildefonso Kazlauskas) was also among the policemen of Uruguay who were murdered by the far left in the era.

Some Lithuanian communists of Uruguay returned to Lithuania ~1950 when Stalin invited them back. They were joined by some non-communists who were attracted by the Soviet propaganda and promises of a supposedly great life in „Soviet Lithuania“. In reality, the Soviet paradise reminded hell to many returnees and most promises were left unfulfilled. Those who managed often returned to Uruguay again but not everyone managed that.

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  1. Labai seniai esu buves tenais,o ir prisimenu tankiai. Ar begyvena ten Darius ir Marisa su seima? Linkejimai Lietuviams ir centro lankytojams!

  2. Labą dieną.
    Šiandien varčiau interneto puslapius ir akis užkliuvo, kad Uruguay sostinėja yra dar lietuviška bažnyčia. Labai smagu žinoti tai.
    Ar dar yra likus lietuviška grupė žmonių kur rengia kokius nors renginius?

    • Laba diena. Pats esu is urugvajaus bendruomenė. Pažiūrėkit facebook lituanos del uruguay. Pamatysite visus renginius.

  3. Baznycia kunygu neturi, bet dar vis ten lankosi pamaldu sestadieniai ir sekamdieniai. Ateina kunygas is kitus. BEt ten yra svarbi veikla. Buna tikybos pamokus, viksta keliu kataliku burelius ir tt.


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