Grave and Chapel of Jurgis Ambrose Pabrėža
At the end of the 19th c., J. A. Pabrėža’s resting place was marked by erecting a granitic cross. Several decades passed, and, by following the orders of the then guardian (superior) of the Friary Father Augustine Dirvelė OFM, the grave received further attention by building a brick neo-Gothic style chapel on it. The gravestone with the granitic cross was supplemented by a concrete base with metal candlesticks and a fence.
The one-storey chapel building is compact. Its walls are decorated with refined reliefs, diminutive niches and orifices. The roof of the building with four pyramid-shaped turrets and metal crosses at their tops look truly impressive. It also accommodates elegant angels and a sculpture of St. Francis, which – situated above the pointed arch entrance – is perpetually blessing the grave. The sculptures (created by Prussian masters) were brought from Germany by following a special order. Furthermore, the small Chapel has another centrepiece, a painting of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Perpetual Help, whose author has not been established to date. However, the story goes that the painting, which Father A. Dirvelė hung in the Chapel, had been painted by J. A. Pabrėža himself.
Till this very day believers visit the grave and Chapel of Jurgis Ambrose Pabrėža in great numbers and make sure that the everlasting candle light illuminating the inside of the Chapel never fades. In 1993, the Chapel which stands on J. A. Pabrėža’s grave was included into the Cultural Heritage Registry of Lithuania. Interestingly, local residents remember J. A. Pabrėža for a totally different reason.
Jurgis Pabrėža was born in 1771, in Večiai village, Skuodas region. Starting from very early years, he was keen on learning, full of great curiosity and strove to acquire knowledge about the surrounding world avidly. During his studies in Kretinga Secondary School (that lasted seven years), Pabrėža attended the Bernardine Church, and thus got acquainted with Bernardine friars. Jurgis was a diligent student and had a special interest in natural sciences. For this reason, he attended lectures on botany, medicine, chemistry, law, history and theology in Vilnius University. After the Kósciuszko Uprising of 1794, he decided to concentrate on theological studies and entered Varniai Seminary. As a priest, Pabrėža served in the Parishes of Šiluva, Tverai, Plungė, Raudėnai and Kartena, until he understood that the missions and teaching fundamentals of St. Francis followers is the calling that makes his heart leap. Whereupon in 1816 priest Jurgis Pabrėža became a member of the Third Order of Saint Francis and chose the monastic name of Father Ambrose. After one year, he took the perpetual vows and settled in Kretinga Friary.
Pabrėža put a lot of effort into spreading love for education in Kretinga Parish. While working as a teacher in the Bernardine Parochial School, he taught children the subtleties of Latin, natural sciences, geography and religion. However, teaching was not Father Ambrose’s only activity – he was also an author. In 1825, he wrote the first Lithuanian textbook on geography, which presented detailed descriptions of Samogitia and many Samogitian geographic terms.
J. A. Pabrėža was a sight for sore eyes in every parish. His sincere, easily understood and meaningful sermons melted people’s hearts in crowded churches.
This versatile personality put a significant amount of effort into self-improvement: Pabrėža painted saints, wrote poems in Samogitian, collected Samogitian and Latvian folklore etc. Furthermore, he paid a great deal of attention to praying, meditation and deepening his knowledge of Christ’s teachings. The priest was exceptionally ascetic and avoided all sensual pleasures, e.g. enjoying tasty food.
However, the main thing that earned J. A. Pabrėža the love and respect of local parishioners was his sincere help while treating local townsfolk and residents of the surrounding villages. Medicine and botany were Father Ambrose’s biggest passions. He chronicled the Samogitian names for plants consistently, gathered and dried various herbs according to different seasons, collected a herbarium and prepared medicines and infusions. People often came to Father Ambrose for advice on treating various diseases and invited him to their homes to visit the sick ones. Undoubtedly, numerous ailing people received proper help because of J. A. Pabrėža knowledge, as the scientific works written by him on botanical subjects were very professional. A 1000-page manuscript The System of Plants, in which the Father described Samogitian plants and their characteristics, is especially valuable. Some of the terms Pabrėža created and wrote down in the manuscript are used till this day. The said scientific study has been included in the National UNESCO Registry.
Moreover, J. A. Pabrėža deserves praise for his contribution to the Samogitian culture, as he used Samogitian language in many of his scientific pieces and writings and perfected it constantly. Supported by his students, his goal was to create a standardised Samogitian language. Thus, during Father Ambrose’s service, Kretinga Friary undoubtedly became a centre of Samogitian culture.
Jurgis Ambrose Pabrėža died at the age of 79. People say that, after the patient reception was over, the friars found him in his cell, peacefully resting on a kneeler near a cross.
Samogitian people still remember Jurgis Pabrėža, or – as they simply call him – Father Ambrose and consider him a saint. Every day, adorers visit Father’s grave and ask him to protect them from sickness and troubles or to help their seriously ill loved ones. People say that many miracles have happened next to J. A. Pabrėža’s Chapel, and that the sickest of people suddenly have been cured just by heartfelt prayer.
Before World War II, Franciscan friars started gathering materials necessary for J. A. Pabrėža’s beatification, but the documents collected disappeared during the Soviet times. Nowadays, the voices bringing forth the case of Father Ambrose’s beatification are heard again, and many people hope that this extraordinary personality will be finally declared blessed.