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Sunday, October 23, 2016

Here Come the Calvary

Sunrise from our living room window. This was taken just before 8 o'clock, an indication of how the daylight hours are getting shorter

Jesus Christ - a name I often mutter when I'm left dumbfounded by someone or something, but one I don't usually give much thought to otherwise. I don't consider myself a religious or spiritual person, especially when it comes to those faiths of the Judeo-Christian or Islamic variety, but I do like the idea of pilgrimages - the notion of taking extended walks in order to visit places of worship appeals to one like me who enjoys a good trek in the hills or woods. One of these days, for example, I'd like to tackle the Shikoku Pilgrimage 四国八十八箇所 in Japan, with its 88 temples associated with the Buddhist monk Kūkai 空海 (health, money and time permitting, of course). So when I discovered that Vilnius has its own version of the Calvary, the Verkiai Calvary (Kalvarijos), I wanted to give it a try. With the wife and child preferring to stay home on a chilly (4°C/39°F) and overcast Saturday, I figured this afternoon would be as good a time as any, and made the 15-minute drive to the starting point after lunch.

Not having attended many Sunday school classes in my youth, I had to look up the significance of the Calvary on Wikipedia:

...a set of religious edifices imitating Jerusalem, often constructed on hills. It functions as a sanctuary of the Passion of Christ where Mystery places are held before Easter, often with miraculous images of Our Lady of Sorrows and sometimes the relics of True Cross.

I was also able to locate an informative website in both Lithuanian and English on the Vilnius Calvary, plus there's a short article on Wikipedia. From these sources, I learned that the route was laid out in 1662-69, largely destroyed by Soviet authorities in 1962 and reconstructed in 1990-2002, and so, having done my research, I was ready to begin the "trek". The short route is well-signposted, along with directional arrows and the occasional bilingual stone explaining the connections to Jerusalem:

The first stop, with its representation of the Last Supper inside, is indicative of what most of the small chapels on the route look like:

In the final throes of fall foliage, the woods were magnificent to walk through:

Jesus gets arrested in stop IV:

Stop V represents crossing the Kidron Valley. It looks more like a guard booth on a small bridge:

Some of the stops along the route take the form of gates, like VI - "Disciples Flee Jesus before the Gate of the Town":

The shrine below, resembling a barn cut in half, is actually three stops in one, IX-X-XI:

The basement (stop X) contains a statue depicting Jesus imprisoned at Caiaphas' Palace:

The two-story chapel is home to XIII (downstairs) and XXI (upstairs). The gate to the latter was closed, but the former had a modernist-looking painting showing Jesus chatting with Pilate, a nice change from the style of most of the artwork along the route:

XV ("At Herod's) seen through XIV ("The First Time at the Iron Gate"):

XXII - "Jesus Takes His Cross":

XXIV: "Jesus Meets His Mother":

XXVI: "Veronica Wipes Christ's Face with her Veil":

The route eventually leads to the Church of the Discovery of the Holy Cross, home to XXXII ("Jesus Dies on the Cross"). A child's christening was taking place as I went inside to have a look (that's XXX - "Jesus Stripped of His Garments" - next to the steps leading up to the main door of the church):

I don't know if today had any special significance, but there were a lot of people tending to the graves of loved ones this afternoon:

A rather gruesome-looking sculpture encased in glass sits outside the church:

XXXIV - "Jesus Laid in the Sepulcher":

XXXV - "The Finding of the Holy Cross" and the last stop on the Verkiai Calvary. Note the crude crosses in front of the painting:

I call this selfie "Uncle Fester in the Graveyard on a Chilly October Afternoon":

Looking back at the church from the cemetery before beginning the return trip to my car. Many of the names on the gravestones are Polish, a reflection of the fact that the city was administered by Poland from 1920 until the Red Army returned it to Lithuanian control in 1939 (and then taking over Lithuania in the spring of 1940):

For the most part the Vilnius Calvary is a fairly straightforward walking trail. Going at a leisurely pace, it took me about 2½ hours to complete the route. My attitudes regarding Christianity haven't changed a bit, but I was struck by the devotion that went into laying out the course, both back in the 17th century and again after the restoration of independence. Lithuania may have been the last European country to adopt Christianity (with paganism never completely going away), but today at least 77% of the population is Roman Catholic, and several public holidays are overtly religious. Churches can be seen all over this country, and during the Soviet occupation Christianity served as a way to express dissent (see the Hill of Crosses). In the same way I've been fascinated with Buddhist and Taoist temples and Shintō shrines, I find it hard to resist popping inside a Christian church to have a look around. Which means you'll probably be seeing a lot more posts like this while we're here in Lithuania.

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