Names immortalised in stone 1

Marius Vyšniauskas, 2014-11-18
From the left: Tomb of Abbot Charles–Michel de l'Épée, L’église Saint–Roch, Paris, France; cenotaph of the poet Dante Alighieri, 1830, St. Cross Church, Florence, Italy. Photos by the author

In brief: The article is about tombs and memorial stelae in churches of Italy, France and Lithuania, Kaunas in particular.

The author mentions one of the most outstanding burial places – Basilica di Santa Croce in Florence, Italy, which is famous for artworks as well as hundreds of graves. 276 marble boards with relief blazons may be counted on the floor, while more monumental tombs are lined near altars. The most famous representatives of music, art and literature were buried here until the 19th century. Such names may be found among the famous personalities: Italian humanist and historian Leonardo Bruni (1370–1444), humanist, chancellor of the Republic of Florence, Carlo Marsuppini (1399–1453), sculptor Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475–1564), astronomer Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) or Italian poet Vittorio Alfieri (1749–1803). A Lithuanian duke Mykolas Kleopas Oginskis (1765–1833) is also buried in this church.

France may be proud of equally important pantheons. As one walks along the side naves of the church L’église Saint–Roch in Paris, one may admire sculptural compositions decorating tombs of noblemen, cultural activists and clergymen: gardener of Louis XIV André Le Nostre (1613–1700), owner of famous Paris saloon Marie Thérèse Rodet Geoffrin (1699–1777), philosopher Denis Diderot (1713–1784), founder of language of the deaf-and-dumb Abbot Charles–Michel de l'Épée (1712–1789), French marchal Claude François Bidal, marquis d'Asfeld (1665–1743), first organiser of expedition to Lapland Pierre Louis Moreau de Maupertuis (1698 – 1759).

Another important pantheon in Paris is dedicated to war heroes (of the 17th-20th century) It is L'Eglise Saint–Louis des Invalides, which belongs to the Army Museum. The church is visited in order to view the tomb of Napoléon Bonaparte (1765–1821), but other tombs located around it also have glorious history.

Speaking about Lithuania, the author regrets that we do not have such important war or cultural memorials that could equal to West Europe. Even the rulers buried in the cellars of Vilnius Cathedral are not accessible to everybody, while the number of tombs that may be seen by visitors of churches is even smaller in Kaunas.

Not many visitors notice boards of the 17th century in St. George the Martyr Church in Kaunas. One of the oldest graves is that of the priest Petras Eitvilaičius, who died in 1589. Another crypt is dedicated to the city governor Vaitiekus Beinortas. More than a dozen crypts are located behind the presbytery, where the patron of the monastery Žibultas Anskopovičius, father Andrius Gudelis from Vilnius monastery, patron of the church Stanislovas Jonas Kiškelis and relatives are buried. A crypt was established by the burgomaster of the city Jonas Macijauskas in 1618.

A big number of memorial boards may be found in Kaunas St. Apostles Peter and Paul Arch-cathedral Basilica. The oldest is the tombstone of white marble with a blazon and two crowns. It belongs to the wife of the Russian messenger in Austria Julia Aleksandrovna Tatishchiava (1785–1834) who died in Kaunas. Another epitaph is dedicated to the philosopher doctor Simeonas Laurinavičius (1765–1839). There is also a memorial board to the Samogitian bishop Motiejus Valančius (1801–1875). Bas-reliefs to Samogitian bishops buried here Mečislovas Leonardas Paliulionis (1834–1908) and Gasparas Felicijonas Cirtautas (1841–1913) may be found in the cathedral. In 1937 the bas-relief board to the composer Juozas Naujalis (1869–1934) was unveiled. In 1938 two other bas-reliefs created by J. Zikaras to Samogitian bishops Merkelis Giedraitis (1574–1609) and Pranciškus Karevičius (1861–1945) were unveiled. 

A different environment prevails in Pažaislis monastery.  Pažaislis Church of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Camaldolese Monastery is a wonderful tombstone to its patron, chancellor of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania Kristupas Zigmantas Pacas (1621–1684) and his family as well as monks who lived in the monastery. Relatives of the patrons of the monastery also received permits to establish graves under the church, e.g. the elder of Kaunas Mikalojus Pacas and his German wife count‘s daughter Felicita Maksimiliana Tautmansdorf (1676), elder of Samogitians Petras Pacas (1696). The tombstones of K. Z. Pacas and his wife were ordered while they were still alive but the plan was not implemented due to unknown reasons. After the death the coffins of the noblemen were placed on a silver catafalque near the coffin of their son.

Crypts of the Camaldolese Order members are located under the chapter of the monastery. Monks lived in Pažaislis for two hundred years. They were buried according to traditions of the order, in niches of the columbarium.

Thus, any tombs that have survived in our churches should not be ignored and should be valued as the historical heritage of Lithuania connecting us with West Europe in one or another way.

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