Kultūra Istorija Kultūra Kalba Lankytinos vietos Vyskupija Literatūra Žemaitijos herbas
Tautosaka Naujienos Redaktoriaus žodis Archyvas Atsiliepimai
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„Žemaičių žemė“. 2004 m. Nr. 3

The Hospitable Land of Telšiai
The land of Telšiai, the area of 1,439 sq. km, lies in northwest of Lithuania, in the Žemaičių Highland. The highest point there is the legendary Šatrija hill (228 m above the sea level), and the lowest place is the lowland of the middle reaches of the Venta (84 m above the sea level). This land is inhabited by more than 57,000 people.
The main occupation of the people is agriculture and various trades linked with it. Industry is mostly concentrated in Telsiai: the stock companies “Žemaitijos pienas” (dairy products, cheese), “Eliuda” (timber processing, furniture), “Žemaitijos keliai” (building of bridges and roads), “Vėtrūna” (a construction organization) and others.
This land boasts of wonderful nature adorned with numerous hills, which is a real feast for one’s eyes. About 31 % of its territory are covered with fir and pine woods and mixed forests. The largest and most beautiful forests are those of Tryškiai and Pegermantis. In the Byvainės forest, near Luoke, grows the pine of Tadas Blinda (“a leveler of the world”), the Pervainiai forest features two big junipers, the Jomantai forest has a triple-trunk oak, etc. These century-old trees are natural monuments.
The Telšiai region has the Germantas, (part of) Minija and Žąsūgalas landscape reserves, the Girgždute and Šatrija landscape historical reserves, the Biržulis-Stervas ornithological reserve and the Varniai regional park.
Through the land of Telšiai winds the river Virvyčia, and the Minija, the great river of the Žemaičiai (Samogitians), praised by poets, also has its source there. The 47 lakes are an integral part of the landscape of the Telsiai land. The largest of them are Lūkstas (1,016 ha), Mastis (276 ha), Tausalas (190 ha) and Germantas (164 ha). Thus, every person longing for peace and rest can draw strength from nature: wander along forest paths, pick berries and mushrooms, catch fish and go boating on the expanse of the silver lakes. Those interested in history and local culture will find some archaeological, historical and cultural monuments there and familiarize themselves not only with the history of the Telšiai land but also with the past of the whole of Lithuania, because the lot of Telšiai ordained by fate is similar to that of the entire country.
Telšiai is the capital of Žemaitija (Samogitia) - a peculiar historical and ethnographic part of western Lithuania, and the administrative center of the Telsiai county and district. It has grown on seven hills described in the legends, near beautiful Lake Mastis. One of the stories mentions giant Telys (Telšys) who with the single movement of his hand (hence the lake’s name Mastis, Lithuanian ‘mostas’ (gesture)) dug out Lake Telšiai and built seven hills on which he founded a town of the Samogitians. Seven is a magic number that has marked the eternal city of Rome, Vilnius adorned with spires and also Telsiai.
Seven hills - autumn vistas.
Seven hills - reflection of the town.
Seven hills - pines and oaks.
Among the seven hills is water...
This is how poet Paulius Drevinis sings of the magic seven in a poem dedicated to Telšiai.
Archaeologists date the oldest findings of the cultural layer of the Telšiai town from the Stone Age. The first mention of Telšiai in historical sources appeared in 1398. The Telšiai manor and the Telšiai district were mentioned in the second half of the 15th century and 1597, respectively. The town developed by the royal Telšiai manor established at that time, which was governed by the elders of the Samogitian Duchy (from 1441) on the instruction of the ruler. The first wooden church was built in 1536, and 1612 saw the establishment of a parish school. During the valakas (land measuring unit) reform, on 8 May 1569 Samogitian surveyor Jokubas Laskauskas marked “the boundaries of the Telsiai town.” In 1624, the warden of the royal manor, Povilas Sapiega, with King Zigmantas Vaza’s permission, invited some Bernardine monks to Telšiai and built a wooden monastery on the highest town hill called “The Insula.” The portrait of this nobleman, who brought great credit to the town, still hangs in the sacristy of the Telšiai Cathedral. The Bernardine monks, distinguished in the educational sphere of the land, planted a fruit and herb garden and founded a library and a hospital at the monastery.
Under the care of Samogitian Archbishop Petras Parčevskis the second wooden church was built in the town in 1650, and nobleman Abraomas Montrimavičius erected a brick chapel of Our Lady of Loretto nearby. After the donation of 5,000 auksinai (gold coins) to the monastery by Vaitiekus Vazinskis eight years later, the facility was reconstructed and expanded. The brick two-story dwelling house of the monastery had the hypocaust (hot air) heating system. However, the growing town that was getting more beautiful was caught in the North War (1700-1721). The Swedish army played the master in Telšiai from 1702 to 1710. Meanwhile, the town was also devastated by a large fire destroying the splendid royal manor, the wooden buildings of the monastery and the church. After the Swedish army had commandeered the inhabitants’ food supplies, a famine began, and later even two-thirds of Zemaitija’s population were sent to the grave by an epidemic of plague. That terrible period is still remembered by the Swedish cannon that was fished out of Lake Mastis and is now lying peacefully by the Samogitian Museum “Alka,” and the still living story of the Swedes who, when fleeing the town, fell through the ice of the lake because of the weight of the looted gold and sank to the bottom along with all fabulous treasures...
To help it revive more quickly, as early as 1721 Telšiai was granted the right of markets and marketplaces. At that time the first Jews who engaged in commerce and trades settled in the town. At the request of the Samogitian gentry, in 1764 Telšiai was selected the centre of the northern part of the Samogitian Duchy referred to as the repartition. The town life became much livelier after the establishment of the land and the castle courts and after noblemen’s seimases (assemblies) had begun to gather there. Seeing the miserable conditions of life at the Bernardine monastery after the North War, noblemen donated money and in 1761 -1765 built a wonderful church (since 1926 the Telšiai Cathedral) in late baroque and classical style. The two-tier high altar, the balcony running round the entire perimeter of the second tier and the original altars of local master J. Mažeika make this house of prayer distinct from Lithuanian other churches. Theological courses were opened at the renewed monastery in 1780. In 1798, the Bernardine monks put up a new brick building for a three-grade school opened in 1793. The school had even 280 students. Ten years later it was expanded into a six-grade school. The course of instruction was equal to that of a gymnasium. Thus, no wonder that there were many taught persons of Žemaitija frequenting this town and living and creating in it: historian of culture M. E. Brenšteinas, poets A. Klementas, S. Valiūnas, K. Praniauskaite, A. Baranauskas and others.
On 6 December 1791, at the request of the nobility, King Stanislovas Augustas granted Telšiai the Magdeburg rights and a coat of arms. The latter shows Cracow’s Bishop St. Stanislaus miraculously resurrecting Petrovin. St.Stanislaus was the patron of the king himself. Therefore, the townspeople considered his picture on the coat of arms the king’s special favor to the town recovering from misfortunes.
With the collapse of the Lithuanian-Polish Commonwealth after its third partition in 1795 the greater part of Lithuania was occupied by Russia. Telšiai became a county town of Lithuania (until 1802), later Vilnius (until 1843) and finally Kaunas provinces. The Telšiai county covered nearly 5,306 sq. km. It had over 200,000 residents at the end of the 19th century. The town witnessed the formation of the county’s administrative institutions and the construction of a treasury, barracks, a court house and a large three-story brick prison. The street (currently Durbino street) leading to the latter, probably, not accidentally carried the name of “Sibirskaya.” Along this street participants in the 1831 and the 1863 uprisings against Russia began their pedestrian journey of several thousand kilometres into the cold of frosty Siberia. Nearly the entire flower of the Samogitian aristocracy, office workers, students and many peasants were caught in the whirlpool of these uprisings. During both revolts Telšiai was an important centre of the Samogitian rebels. The disobedient land and town were subject to repressions. The Telšiai Bernardine monastery was closed in 1853, and in 1863 it was turned into another town prison. The old wooden church was pulled down. In 1867, a neobyzantyne Orthodox church was built on the site of the previous shrine and the old town cemetery, the Lithuanian writing was banned, and an execution platform emerged in the Market Square downtown.
Despite all misfortunes the town life did not stop.
1798 saw the opening of the first Wilhelm von Ziegler pharmacy in Telšiai. A wooden Evangelical Lutheran church was built in 1818 (rebuilt into a brick one in 1875), and a civilian hospital was founded in 1824. Shortly thereafter (in 1832), a wooden post office building was erected. Under the care of outstanding Jewish poet Gordan the Higher Jewish Rabbi School (university) was established in Telšiai in 1873. After the First World War the Telšiai Jewish Rabbi School became the most famous world center for studying the Torah.
Business expanded and trades developed in Telšiai. 1872 witnessed the emergence of a match factory, and six years later a large spirits plant was built. Street lighting was introduced in 1869, and a team of fire fighters began to guard the peace of the town in 1878. However, it was of little help during the great Telšiai fire which rang widely through czarist Russia in 1908. The flames that raged for two days destroyed the greater part of the town. Only the treasury downtown remained intact on the charred fire site. In 1914, the First World War descended on the town that was rapidly rising from ashes. The German army reigned in Telšiai between 1915 and 1919. The kaiser’s soldiers removed what the retreating Russians had not had time to take with them. They took away everything: grain, cattle and their skins, church bells, the tin torn from roofs and even metal buttons...
After the declaration of Lithuania’s independence in 1918, Telšiai, having lost nearly 30% of its inhabitants after the war, gradually began to revive. The “Saule” Boys’ Gymnasium was founded the same year, and 1922 saw the establishment of the Teachers’ College. On 1 April 1926, Pope Pius XI established the church province of Lithuania. At that time the railroad also reached Telšiai. In 1931, Telšiai was granted the status of a priority town. Over a short time the town’s streets were made neat and paved, and a lot of stylish buildings were constructed: in 1928 the second higher school - the Seminary, in 1929 the Bishops’ Palace, in 1931 the “Mastis” factory, in 1933 the electric power plant, in 1939 the renowned Bishop Motiejus Valančius Gymnasium, also St.Michael’s Orthodox Church in cubist style, the Trade School, the Samogitian Museum “Alka” and many others.
At that time Telsiai had only 10,000 inhabitants, but it boasted a cathedral, a Catholic, a Lutheran and an Orthodox church, five synagogues, two higher schools, several secondary schools, a museum, a theatre and some cultural societies. Books were published and even five newspapers were issued there. So, cultural life was in full swing, which made a great impression on visitors. It was then that the well-known Samogitian saying “Telsee kaap Siaulee - veine muraa!” (“Telsiai is like Šiauliai - nothing but brick walls!”) might have originated.
In 1940, the town was fated to suffer its third ordeal. Following the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union. This marked the beginning of mass deportations and arrests of the population and the instigation of hostility among nationalities that had lived peacefully for centuries. We will never forget the victims of Bolshevism, the Rainiai martyrs tortured to death on the night of 24 June 1941... Nor will we forget the Jews killed by the fascists, who lay down in the mass graves in Rainiai, Geruliai, Tryškiai and other places. It should be noted that at that time the Jews accounted for nearly 40% of the urban population. During the rage of the red and the brown plagues (1940-1953) prewar museum specialists to set up an “open air museum,” i.e. an outdoor Samogitian rural museum, was finally realized. The museum boasted a wonderful late 19th-century collection of wooden folk architecture and household utensils. Industry that suited mostly Russia’s needs was expanded: the computing machine plant, the cheese dairy, the light industry enterprise “Mastis” and the gloves factory. Agriculture was centralized by destroying thousands of excellent and well-kept individual farmsteads and creating collective and state farms.
The restoration of Lithuania’s independence in 1991 put an end to the 50-year-long occupation. The town again began a new, although economically still difficult period of life. In 1989, the Telsiai Seminary was re-established, the construction of an annex to the Samogitian Museum “Alka” was started, and an active Samogitian Cultural Society emerged. New private enterprises were established and the old existing ones were reorganized.
Currently, the town covers the area of 1,637 ha and has more than 33,000 inhabitants. There are eight secondary schools, the Children’s Musical and Art Schools, the Higher Applied Art School and the rich Samogitian Museum “Alka” with a local life section. Telšiai features 74 cultural monuments, including 36 architectural ones. Near Telšiai, in Džiuginėnai, by beautiful Lake Germantas, still stands the building of a manor that was the residence of Lithuanian classical writer Žemaitė and J.Perkowski, critic of the Samogitian folk art. The old streets of Telšiai remember the taught men and women who once lived there: V. Vydūnas (the chestnut trees planted by him still grow on Kaštonų street), I.Simonaitytė, Pr.Genys, E.Ciuras (Čiužas), Vyt. Mačernis, T.Valius, P.Augius, A.H.Tornau, A.Tenisonas, the Gedneriai family, F. Milevičius and many others.
The winding roads leading through the picturesque environs past Rainiai or Zarėnai will bring you to Old Varniai.
Žemaičiai Country Life Museum
The idea to set up an “open-air” museum featuring the 19th-century old village of Žemaitija and its life occurred to the Telšiai museum specialists as early as in the pre-war years. Unfortunately, the war and the post-war disasters disrupted its implementation for long. In 1963, the Council of Ministers passed a resolution on the establishment of the Lithuanian Country Life Museum in Rumšiškes and three regional local life sections. Work for the creation of the Žemaiciai Country Life Museum began. In 1967, a plot of 15 ha was allotted on the south western shore of Lake Mastis, and exhibits were sought out throughout Žemaitija. The Žemaiciai Country Life Museum received the first visitors in 1982. Surrounded by fir woods, the area contains three farmsteads composed of 16 buildings and a wooden windmill. The authentic late 19th-century houses of rural Žemaitija have numerous period household utensils, agricultural implements and furniture on display. Thus, folk festivals and performances held at the museum enjoy an authentic environment. The place is gladly frequented by the townspeople of Telsiai, and tourists are also welcome.
This peculiar town of Žemaitija is situated between mysterious Lake Biržulis and Lake Lūkstas on both sides of the small and winding Varnelė river. The outward calm of the small town’s present is deceitful. Every corner here reminds one of the majestic and long history of Varniai life.
The chronicles of the Teutonic Order mention Varniai from as early as the 14th century. After the christening of the Samogitians in 1413 one of Žemaitija’s first seven churches, named after St. Alexander, was built in the town. In 1417 Varniai became the capital of the vast Samogitian bishopric covering the greater part of current Lithuania. As early as 1421 a cathedral and buildings of the bishop’s mansion and the capitula were put up in the town. Under the care of Samogitian Bishop Motiejus II, in 1469 the first parish school of žemaitija was established. In 1491, Bishop Martynas granted Varniai the Kulm right to self-government. The town was visited and inhabited by a lot of educated people of that time, and books were written and translated there. Under the care of Samogitian Bishop Merkelis Giedraitis, in 1565 here in Varniai canon Mikalojus Dauksa translated J.Ledesma’s Cathecism into Lithuanian, and M. Stryjkowski completed writing and in 1582 published in Karaliaučius (Kaliningrad) his prominent historical work “The Chronicle of Poland, Lithuania, Samogitia and All Russia.” At the request of Samogitian Bishop J. Tiškevičius in 1635 King Vladislovas Vaza granted the town the Magdeburg rights and a coat of arms which showed St. George on horseback with his spear transfixing a dragon. In 1691, on the instruction of Samogitian Bishop Kazimieras Pacas, the brick baroque Ss. Peter and Paul’s Cathedral with a clock on one of its towers rose on the site of the burnt wooden temple. In 1743, the Rokity monks, who took care of spiritually and physically disabled people, settled in the town. In 1757, Bishop J.Lopacinski completed the construction of a building for the Seminary transferred from Kražiai to Varniai, which featured a tower containing the town’s second clock and bells that had a superb toll. The Varniai Seminary amassed a huge library of nearly 6,000 volumes. A bookstore of J.Zavackis was opened. Many learned Lithuanian men lived and studied in the town: Motiejus Valančius, Simonas Daukantas, Antanas Baranauskas, Antanas Strazdas, Jurgis Pabrėža, Antanas Vienažindys, Antanas Mackevičius and others. The town witnessed the establishment of a pharmacy in 1856. The acclaimed abstinence movement that caused the concern of Russian authorities spread from Varniai.
The 1863 uprising, actively attended by the public of Varniai and most seminary priests, was followed by bitter repressions. In 1864, the Russian government moved the centre of the Samogitian bishopric to Kaunas. The building of the Seminary was turned into a barracks. Bishop Motiejus Valančius wrote with grief: “The town of Varniai remained empty like a barn in spring.” The fame of the almost forsaken and hushed town was for some time spread by Varniai horse markets and fairs and skilful sledge makers and wheelwrights widely known throughout Russia. The 1820 fair of Varniai, i.e. a town at that time inhabited only by about 1,500 people, alone was attended by more than 20,000 visitors, with the daily horse sales reaching 3,500.
During the years of the First World War Varniai declined considerably. To revive the historical past of the town, 1927 saw the unveiling of a monument to Samogitian Bishop Motiejus Valančius under the care of the town’s intellectuals. After the Soviet occupation the monument was pulled down (1951) due to its discrepancy with the Bolshevik ideology. The old Church of St. Alexander was closed and turned into a granary. Presently Motiejus Valančius’ monument has been rebuilt with donations from the town’s inhabitants, and St. Alexander’s Church has been restored and returned to believers. The building of the Varniai Seminary is also under reconstruction. A Museum of the Samogitian Bishopric (Samogitian Diocese Museum) was be set up there in 1997. Thus, the restoration of at least part of the preserved edifices of this Samogitian town is under way. In the future, Varniai is expected to provide great possibilities for the development of tourism.
Currently, the town covers an area of 320 sq. km. Its inhabitants number 2,000.
Samogitian Diocese Museum
The Samogitian Diocese Museum is a state financed public cultural institution. Its founders are the Telšiai diocese and the Lithuanian Ministry of Culture. The institution’s main goals are to preserve, collect, and safeguard, restore, analyze, and propagate artistic, cultural, and historical values. With these goals in mind, the Museum initiates projects related to the protection of the cultural heritage, and seeks to include the Lithuanian public in their implementation.
This museum was established in the former Samogitian Theological Seminary, founded in 1770. When the czarist administration closed the University of Vilnius in the 19th century, the Samogitian Theological Seminary, and the Medical Faculty in Vilnius were the only institutions of higher education left in Lithuania. Many of those who took part in the uprisings of 1831 and 1863, as well as various important figures in the development of a Lithuanian cultural and national consciousness worked and studied in Varniai. The Samogitian Diocese Museum is currently being re-developed with the aid of the experience of museums in Western Europe.
The Society of Supporters is a voluntary and public club of Samogitian Diocese Museum supporters. It helps to unite enthusiasts contributing to the revival of Varniai as a cultural center. The Society of Supporters provides aid in implementing projects initiated by the Museum, and strives to contribute and co-ordinate public support and charity. The key people of the founding group are former residents of Varniai, currently working and studying in various cities throughout Lithuania.


© Žemaičių kultūros draugijos redakcija
Tinklalapis atnaujintas 2004.09.28 .
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Istorija Kultūra Kalba Lankytinos vietos Vyskupija Literatūra
Tautosaka Naujienos Redaktoriaus žodis Archyvas Atsiliepimai
RodyklėĮ pradžiąInformacija