More than just a tourist attraction
There is a famous saying that there is a church for each citizen of Vilnius. That might not be exactly true now, but that does not change the fact that there are 103 churches in Vilnius according to the archdiocese of Vilnius. The majority of Lithuanians are Roman Catholics, therefore Catholic churches make up the biggest percentage of all the churches. However, there also are quite some Protestant and Orthodox churches in Vilnius too. Most of the churches are quite old and have maintained their authenticity through the centuries. Thus, one can reveal a unique side of Vilnius by attending a Sunday mass or simply exploring the gorgeous buildings.
Orthodox Churches in Vilnius
Around 5% of Lithuanians belong to the Eastern Orthodox church. Although there is no specific word for Orthodox churches in English, Lithuanians have a separate word for this – “Cerkvė”. All the Catholic churches go by the name “Bažnyčia”. Learning these two words might be useful if you are looking for a specific church in Vilnius and you are not sure which religion it belongs to.
The two biggest Orthodox churches in Vilnius are the Cathedral of Theotokos (Dievo Motinos į dangų ėmimo katedra) and the Church of Our Lady of the Sign (Dievo motinos ikonos “Ženklas iš dangaus” cerkvė). The first one is located near Užupis. It was built in 1348 and thus, is one of the oldest churches in Vilnius. Throughout the centuries it was renovated, belonged to numerous owners, and was only returned to the Orthodox believers in 1868. Currently, mostly Russians and Belorussians attend the mass. The second church was constructed quite later than the first. The Church of Our Lady of the Sign was built in 1903 and served as one of the main Orthodox churches in Vilnius. Now it not only holds mass but also has a Sunday school and a music center for the youth.
More Orthodox Churches
Despite these two churches being the biggest or the most popular, there are other quite important Orthodox churches in Vilnius too. For instance, the Church of St Constantine and St Michael (Šv. Konstantino ir Michailo cerkvė) built for the commemoration of the Romanov dynasty. Church of St Michael (Šv. arkangelo Mykolo cerkvė) near Kalvarijų market was an Orthodox church and a school. Church of St Nicholas (Šv. Nikolajaus cerkvė) on Didžioji street is disguised by the nearby buildings, however, it has quite a rich history and should be considered as an interesting landmark.
Quite near this church, there is another Orthodox church by the name of the Church of St Paraskeva (Šv. kankinės Paraskevos cerkvė). This church has burned down 3 times, was visited by the Russian tsar Peter the Great, and saw the changing city from the 14th century. It does not hold mass but is one of the tourist attractions. If you would like to find out more about the Orthodox churches in Vilnius, especially if you would like to partake in a religious service, visit the website https://www.orthodoxy.lt/ (in Russian only) or visit your chosen church and ask there. Keep in mind that most masses held in the Orthodox churches are in the Russian language.
Protestant Churches in Vilnius
Protestantism is not quite popular among the Lithuanians, but that does not mean that there are no Protestant churches. Not many Lithuanians know where to find The Evangelical Lutheran church (Evangelikų liuteronų bažnyčia) in Vilnius. It is on Vokiečių street and one can access it by going through a gate. Nearby the church there is a statue of Martin Luther. Built in the 16th century, the church should definitely be on the list of tourist attractions. Moreover, this church holds mass in English as well. You can find all the information on their website http://www.velb.lt/.
The second Protestant church is the Evangelical Reformed Church (Evangelikų reformatų bažnyčia). Right on the other side of Pylimo street, there is the square of Reformats which is going to open in 2021 after years of renovations. The church itself has undergone major reconstructions too. However, currently, it has reopened its doors to the believers. The church does not hold mass in English but is a great tourist attraction nevertheless. The building is famous for its columns and the wooden ceilings inside the church. If you would like to find out more about this particular church, visit its website https://www.ref.lt/.
The Cathedral and the Catholic Churches
The majority of churches in Vilnius are Catholic including the most important one – Cathedral Basilica of St. Stanislaus and St. Vladislav (Šv. Stanislovo and Šv. Vladislavo arkikatedra bazilika). Most Lithuanians simply call it “Katedra”. It is the central part of the city that you will inevitably visit. The Cathedral is important for quite some reasons. Firstly, it is the biggest church in all of Vilnius and the main church for all the believers. On Sunday there are 7 masses and there are morning and evening masses every day. The choir participates in each Sunday mass. However, the mass is only in Lithuanian. Moreover, this church is an absolute architectural gem that should not be missed, it even has a crypt beneath the building where various famous rulers have been buried.
Another very important church in Vilnius is the church of St. Peter and St. Paul (Šv. apaštalų Petro ir Povilo bažnyčia). This is the second most famous church in Vilnius, especially valued for its interior. The church is located in Antakalnis, a bit further from the city center, but definitely worth a visit. Built in the 15th century, this baroque-style church has a spectacular white ceiling with glass ornaments. It has been built as a church for the suburban villas of the wealthy Vilnius citizens, but once the city expanded it became just another church of Vilnius. The mass is in Lithuanian and in Polish, so check the timetable at https://vilniauspetropovilo.lt/.
Since these two churches are the biggest, the rest of them are a lot smaller, but that does not mean they are less valuable. Church of St. Anne (Šv. Onos bažnyčia) is famous for its gothic architecture. There is a story that when Napoleon was coming traveling from Russia back to France, he stopped at Vilnius. When he saw the church of St. Anne, he said that if he could, he would take it to Paris. Currently, this church holds mass in Lithuanian but mainly serves as a tourist attraction. Right by the side of this church, there is another one, called the church of St. Francis and St. Bernard (Šv. Pranciškaus Asyžiečio ir Šv. Bernardino bažnyčia). It is a bit bigger than the church of St. Anne and has a monastery in the back of the church. St Bernardine church holds mass in English, for the time of the mass visit their website https://www.bernardinuparapija.lt/.
Church of St. Casimir (Šv. Kazimiero bažnyčia) on Didžioji street is a baroque church with a crown on top. A jewel of the old town for sure. The church belongs to the Jesuits and holds mass both in Lithuanian and in Russian. To find out more, their website is http://www.jezuitai.lt/baznycios/vilniaus-sv-kazimiero-baznycia. The last church that is definitely worth the attention is the church of St. Nicholas (Šv. Mikalojaus bažnyčia) in the old town. It is nearby Vokiečių street and has a nice little square around it. The church holds mass in Lithuanian with the translation to the sign language.
Churches for Everyone
While Vilnius does not have a church for each of its citizens, it definitely has enough for everyone to choose. There are churches in old buildings and there are others that are still being built, the churches can be Orthodox, Protestant, or Catholic. The mass is held in various languages and even translated to sign language. So it does not matter whether you would like to attend a religious service or just explore, the churches in Vilnius are not to be missed.