Kaunas Bernardine Friary
Since the very beginning, the activities of the Bernardine Church and the Friary became an integral part of the city’s life. Townspeople attended Mass in great numbers, listened to sermons and chanted the canticles popularised by the Bernardines together with the friars. The brothers closely communicated with all members of the community and the guilds of shoemakers, tailors and furriers active in the city at that time.
During the entire existence of Kaunas Bernardine Friary, Friars Minor have had to renovate it one too many times. In the 17th c., the buildings were ravaged by fires, whereas during the war of 1655, the complex was harried by the Russian army. The year 1812, when Lithuania became a military conflict zone of two European empires – the Russian and the French – proved to be fatal in the Friary’s history. It became a place of constant overnight stays or regular accommodation for soldiers, and thus inbreaks and plundering done by army men started happening every day. Finally, the Friary was made into a war hospital and became an impossible place for the brothers to live in.
When the war was over, the Bernardines returned and once again started rebuilding the Friary. However, the friars had taken part in the November (1831) Uprising and thus the tsarist repressions that followed destroyed their efforts and visions of restoring the Friary’s activities. In 1842, Kaunas Bernardine Friary was closed. The buildings were torn up and used as a prison, as a gymnasium and later on as a military warehouse. At that time, it seemed that the Friary would never come back to its original mission. In 1864, the Samogitian Diocese Centre was moved from Varniai to Kaunas, and, together with the Church, the Friary was handed over to the Seminary, which had also been transferred to the City.
The buildings of the Church and the Friary suffered the greatest damage during the Soviet occupation. The Church was turned into a warehouse, and the Friary became a Junior College of Medicine. Many works of art, valuable architectural and interior details were lost at that time, and the condition of the buildings became critical. It was only in 1993 that the Friary was handed back to the Order of Friars Minor. It took more than a decade to restore and renovate the building and bring its original functions back to life. These objects have become vital parts of Kaunas identity after their rebirth, as they rally the community, attract tourists and promote the traditions of pilgrimage. In 2011, a pilgrims’ guest house called Domuc Pacis was opened in the Friary premises.