Kretinga Church of the Lord’s Revelation to the Blessed Virgin Mary
The interior of the Church is very subtle and elegant. The most impressive objects therein are an ensemble of seven altars (which have remained till this day) and a masterly decorated pulpit with gilded and silver-plated sculptures of Jesus Christ and his apostles. However, only six out of twelve apostle sculptures have survived. It is worth mentioning that, in the middle of the 17th c., Pope Innocent X declared that all people, who would visit the seven altars of Kretinga Church and pray sincerely as the Bishop of Samogitia had indicated, should be given the same indulgence, which was only granted after visiting the seven altars in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome!
Beneath all the altars, crypts were bricked up, and a burial vault for Franciscan friars was built between the central altar and the Friary buildings. Naturally, one of the crypts underneath the Grand Altar was designated for Jan Karol Chodkiewicz’s family. Thus there lie the remains of J. K. Chodkiewicz’s wife and their children. One more magnificently impressive object is the front door of the Church, decorated with the sponsors’ coats of arms, their portrait images and multiple other spectacular, original and vital ornaments.
As all other valuable buildings, the Church of the Lord’s Revelation to the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Friary suffered immense damage during the wars between the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Kingdom of Sweden. During these difficult times, the Bernardine Church was looked after by Jurgis Tyszkiewicz, who at that time was the Bishop of Samogitia. It was he who brought the relics of St. Agnes, Pope St. Felix I, martyr saints Victorinus, Justin and Restituta from Rome and gave them to the Church as a present. These relics attracted many worshippers from the neighbouring parishes.
The hardships of the wars with Sweden are well reflected by the friars’ burial vault in the catacombs of the Church, called the Martyr Crypt. The story goes that, at the beginning of the 18th c., Swedish soldiers tortured the Friars Minor left to guard the Friary in order to find out where the valuables of the Friary had been hidden. The half-dead friars were immured in the Franciscan burial vault and left there to die. After the bones of the martyrs and other friars buried there were found, they were collected and honoured accordingly. The visitors today are reminded of the story about the martyrs by an impressive altar with windows, created by Rimantas Sakalauskas. If opened, the windows of the altar reveal four sculls of the brave martyrs. The remaining bones have been buried in the altar and underneath it.
The exterior of the Church one can see nowadays was formed in 1672, during a renovation following a routine attack of Swedish soldiers. A rectangular tower with a pyramid-shaped spire was constructed next to the main façade, and a Renaissance-style turret was erected atop the chancel (the space around the central altar). These additions gave the Church features characteristic to the Renaissance architecture. In the second half of the 19th c., the parish Church was repaired once again. The renovated sanctuary was honoured with further relics of St. Francis of Assisi, St. Anthony of Padua and St. Casimir. It is said that each one of the seven altars holds a reliquary (i.e. a liturgical container with a relic kept inside). Thus upon visiting all the relics, the churchgoers were given a 40-day indulgence by Bishop Motiejus Valančius.
The number of parishioners, wakes and worshippers visiting the relics grew rapidly, and the need for more space in Kretinga Church increased. At the beginning of the last century, the sanctuary was expanded by adding two smaller naves to the central one.
For several centuries, Kretinga has been famous for its miraculous St. Anthony’s Altar which has a painting of St. Anthony. The altar holds a St. Anthony relic – some bone fragments – sanctified by Bishop Motiejus Valančius. During the Wake of St. Anthony (the main event of the Parish), churchgoers from various parts of Lithuania used to come and pray next to the miraculous painting. During the interwar period, the Wake of St. Anthony was attended even by such honourable guests as President Antanas Smetona.
During the interwar period, Lithuanian worshippers showed true generosity in their donations for the renewal of the Church. Due to this, its interior was renovated, the back arch of the central nave was decorated with frescos, the altars and their paintings were restored and St. Anthony’s Bell was brought from Paris and hung in the Church’s tower.
World War II brought a lot of pain and damage for Kretinga’s Bernardines and their Church. The fire that broke out in the summer of 1941 ravaged the Church: the famous organ and the tower were destroyed, the roof was scorched and St. Anthony’s Bell melted. Soon new roofing was added to the Church by using the donations given by the parishioners. The tower was also repaired to an extent, but only in 1982 was it fully restored, following the efforts of Canon Bronislovas Burneikis, who also founded three bells and hung them in the tower. Unfortunately, nowadays the bells are cracked and unusable.
Currently, procedures of restoring valuable pieces of art are in progress in the Church of the Lord’s Revelation to the Blessed Virgin Mary: altars, paintings, crypts and other valuable heritage objects take on a new life. Therein you can also see a heritage object of exceptional value, brought to the sanctuary from Gintališkė Church – a 400 year-old organ, which visitors can get an eyeful of in the Martyr Chapel. It is the oldest functional organ in Lithuania, which – if you decide to visit Kretinga Church – is really worth seeing.