Vilnius Bernardine Friary
Together with the Bernardine Church, the Friary was built in the 15th c. and reconstructed a multitude of times after that. Its Gothic design and many of its authentic façades, interior elements and forms have survived up to this day. In the 16th c., three two-storey pavilions were built. Together with the Church, the pavilions surrounded a closed rectangular courtyard. Furthermore, the interior of the Friary also has valuable authentic architectural and artistic elements. The ceiling of the corridors is embellished by stellar (lierne) and groin vaults and an abundance of remaining Gothic and Renaissance style painting, and the sacristy still has an authentic 16th c. portal, created during the Renaissance period, and an ornate 15th c. door made of forged metal.
Since the day it opened its door, the Bernardine Friary was full of activity. The Friary housed a novitiate and a scriptorium, established in the 15th c. Moreover, soon after its opening, the friars began collecting books and started a library. In 1605, a seminary for the Franciscan Order (the “Observants”) was opened. In the Friary, many clergymen lived and worked during all times. For instance, there were 100 friars in the middle of the 17th c., 55 at the end of the 18th c. and 40 in the middle of the 19th c. settled there. The brothers had various duties: some were carpenters, some blacksmiths, others – organists, painters and so on.
Many people were drawn to the Bernardine Church by the Liturgy of Hours, chanted or read by the brothers, and popular service. Sermons, jointly recited prayers and chanted songs comprised a very important element of the successful pastoral care performed by the Bernardines, which attracted crowds of worshippers. Moreover, the Bernardines taught the truths of their faith in mother tongues. For this reason, the first remaining instances of the Lithuanian printing are associated with this particular Order.
Another interesting thing is that the Bernardines, most probably, directed the first liturgical dramas in Vilnius city. From the 17th to the 18th c., evangelical events were augmented by impressive artistic inserts. One could witness mechanic moving sculptures, pyrotechnical elements and listen to music. Life of Vilnius townsfolk was further enlivened by occasional colourful processions with theatricalised performances. These processions attracted various ecclesiastical and craftsmen societies alike.
Like many others, the Bernardines suffered from the tsarist repressions that were executed after the January (1863) Uprising. In 1864, the Friary was closed, and its buildings were made into barracks for soldiers.
Another factor that irreversibly wreaked the historical – architectural Bernardine ensemble was a street, constructed right next to the façade of the St. Anne’s Church during the period from 1869 to 1870. The street disrupted the outer ensemble of the Churches and the Friary by intersecting the Bernardine Garden and the churchyard.
At the beginning of the 20th c., a third brick floor was added. In 1919 and in 1923, the Friary’s interior was also reconstructed by adapting the spaces inside for the needs of the Art Faculty of Vilnius University, which was later reorganized into Vilnius Academy of Arts.
After the original activities of the Friary were discontinued, the friars were forced to leave Vilnius. It took almost one hundred fifty years for the brown habits to be seen again in the streets of the city. Fortunately, the Bernardines had never lost hope to return to their beloved city and continue their mission. Ant they have been doing it ever since.