Distance travelled: 107km
Weather: Sunny and warm
I wanted to look around Vilnius today as I had heard there was quite a selection of churches to visit. Mark had no interest in walking today and his interest in church decor is casual at best so we decided that I could ride into town and explore on my own while he spent the morning processing photos and overseeing the washing. We had breakfast together and I set off, forgoing a shower since I would return from my ride sweaty. It would be better to shower afterward.
After examination of the tourist maps the campsite receptionist had provided, I thought I had a good idea of the direction to go. Unfortunately a large multi-lane road put me off course and I took a slightly longer route into the heart of Vilnius than was probably required. The detour did take me past an Orthodox Church though, unfortunately shrouded in scaffolding. I peeked in the door but it seemed busy with parishioners and I didn’t feel right invading their holy space.
Riding on, I came to the old centre of town. Narrow twisting cobbled streets took me past mostly three and four story buildings and many, many churches. After a while I got tired of locking and unlocking my bike and started leaving it in a central location and visiting several buildings at once. I had noticed a group of people in bright orange shirts when I first reached the old town and more cropped up, orange, yellow, green, blue shirts marking them as belonging to small packs. I began to notice lanyards and headscarves in common and finally realised they were on pilgrimage.
The pilgrims flocked thickest at the Church of the Holy Spirit and at the shrine to Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn. The church is part of a complex which also comprises two monasteries: the friary of Holy Spirit and the convent of Holy Mary Magdalene. It’s internal walls are painted a bright green and there was a central shrine which at first I was puzzled about but after reading a sign on one wall, realised contained the bodies of three mayrters. They were heavily shrouded in embroidered cloth, green to match the rest of the building, but the socks and embroidered slippers sticking out the bottom were a giveaway.
Anthony, John, and Eustathius are saints and martyrs (died 1347) of the Russian Orthodox Church. They were attached to the Muscovite missionaries dispatched to the court of Algirdas, pagan Grand Duke of Lithuania. Algirdas was married to an Orthodox Christian princess, Maria of Vitebsk, and the Orthodox were permitted only to minister to the religious needs of the princess. All outside proselytizing was forbidden. The three youths were arrested for preaching in public, and were ordered by Algirdas to consume meat in his presence during an Orthodox fasting period. When they refused, they were tortured and executed. Their bodies were kept in a glass reliquary in a crypt chapel beneath the altar of the cathedral church in the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Vilnius, Lithuania, but have since been moved to the main sanctuary of the church. Their relics are said to be incorruptible.
Just around the corner was Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn. Climbing the stairs to get a closer look at the icon, I came across more pilgrims, kneeling thick about the shrine. There was no way I was getting a photo while they were there so I backed out of the small room and headed off.
Also from Wikipedia:
In the 16th century city gates often contained religious artifacts intended to guard the city from attacks and to bless travelers. The Chapel in the Gate of Dawn contains an icon of The Blessed Virgin Mary Mother of Mercy, said to have miraculous powers. For centuries the picture has been one of the symbols of the city and an object of veneration for both Roman Catholic and Orthodox inhabitants. Thousands of votive offerings adorn the walls and many pilgrims from neighboring countries come to pray in front of the beloved painting.
It was past midday and Mark and lunch beckoned. On the way back I belatedly started searching for a post office as I needed stamps for my postcards. I always have better luck asking for stamps to Australia from postal staff but I had no luck today whatsoever.
I passed a stall outside of a shopping centre and stopped to buy some local pastries, something like a Cornish pasty with chicken in one and what was possibly beef in the other. The lady serving had no English unfortunately and I didn’t write down what flavours she gave me otherwise I could have checked later (the chicken was identified by mime). All together, upon my arrival back at the campsite, I had travelled about 20km in the four and a half hours I had been away. A lot of that had been pushing my bike along streets too narrow to safely dodge cars and the fact I had gone a little off course both to and from town had added to the distance as well.
A quick refreshing shower while Mark did the final pack up and a pause at the service point for water etcetera and we were away. I am still a little nervous taking a shower where there is so little privacy. The shower room, another modified shipping container type like Riga, had a single room with three formed showers with a curtain only for privacy and nowhere handy to put my towel. I had to step out of the cubicle to dry and dress. Luckily at this time of the day, I was the only occupant. I will have to get over this hang up, there are sure to be more amenities like this.
It was 4pm when we headed out of town to Dzūkija National Park. When we arrived it was to find people swimming in the lake we parked beside. We were tempted by another swim but I had just had a lovely shower and washed my hair and it wasn’t particularly hot so we decided not too. The last keen swimmers left at 10pm just as dusk fell and it wasn’t much longer before we were in bed watching some TV before sleep.