Kražiai is a small town in the territory of Kelmė municipality area, along the road Kelmė-Varniai – 16 kilometres to the west of Kelmė. Kražiai was first mentioned in Mindaugas’ document in 1253 as Crase. Kražiai town is situated on both sides of the Kražantė river, and the old part of the town is preserved as the heritage of urban culture. From the earliest times Kražiai monasteries and churches had a special significance not only for Samogitia, but also for the whole Lithuania’s cultural and spiritual life.
The history of Kražiai in the 21st century is formed by traditional Kražiai festival, camps, artists residences and plein-airs. In the summer, various singers, composers, photographers, painters, art lovers and other interesting people come here. Kražiai attracts creative and famous personalities and all those who want to come back to their roots.
Kražiai is one of Lithuania’s small towns, which have a lot of to cherish, enjoy and be proud of. The town boasts a rich history, active cultural life and cultural heritage sites.
KRAŽIAI JESUIT COLLEGE
In the beginning of 17th century Jesuits came to Kražiai, and a huge ensemble of Kražiai Jesuits College building was started to build on the foundations of Radvila’s castle; the plot of land was funded by M. K. Radvila Našlaitėlis. 22 buildings of various purposes were built in around 4 hectares: monastery – college building (3 corps), church, school, farm buildings, a brick mill, brewery, etc.
Until now, only the southern building of ensemble has been preserved. It is a significant historical and architectural monument of the 16th-17th centuries, the most important centre of education and religious life of Samogitia. Many significant public and cultural figures worked and studied here. They are a poet, philisopher Motiejus Kazimieras Sarbievijus, Dionizas Poška, scholar, writer Mikalojus Daukša, Bishop Motiejus Valančius, writer Simonas Stanevičius, folklorist brothers Antanas and Jonas Juška, ethnographer Liudvikas Jucevičius.
In 1773, the Jesuits were resettled from Kražiai, so the buildings were desolated, as they had many owners. The major part of buildings was demolished by one of the owners Pšeciševskis, and the southern building was rented to the people and institutions. Later this building belonged to other owners. In 2000, Kelmė district municipality redeemed the building and renovation which lasted until 2008 was started. In 2008, the cultural center of Matthew Casimir Sarbievius was established here.
3D reconstruction of the former Jesuit College complex:
ST. VIRGIN MARY IMMACULATE CONCEPTION PARISH CHURCH IN KRAŽIAI
After the Benedictine nuns settled down in Kražiai, in 1639 the monastery and the church were built on a land plot which was donated to them. After the wooden monastery buildings got aged, in 1757-1763 a church of stonework was built. It was designed by former Kražiai Jesuits College and Vilnius University professor, mathematician and architect Tomas Žebrasukas. The church got the title of The Virgin Mary’s Immaculate Conception.
Late Baroque style Kražiai Church is known in Lithuania as the protector of Catholics and our nationality. It logs the history of the massacre Kražiai events that have caused repercussions throughout Europe. Tsarist government closed the monastery and planned to demolish the church. The faithful people asked to make a church of the monastery as a parish church. People requested thee government, kings, rulers and other bishops to do so. Residents day and night guarded the church, not allowing it to be closed. In November 22 in 1893, tsarist gendarmes and Cossacks tried to deal people with violence. 9 people were killed and other 50 injured. This historic event is known as Kražiai massacre and regarded as a Catholic and Lithuanian Defense symbol.
A stone church of the late Baroque style, the churchyard fence, and the chapel of St. Rokas has remained to this day.
ST. ROKAS CHAPEL
St. Rokas Chapel was built in the first half of 19th century. In 2001, the chapel was restored. During the restoration of the burial crypt, the remains of 9 coffins, and burial tables with surnames were found. These days you can find Crucifixion sculpture of the 17th century hanging in the altar part in the chapel.
From the 18th century St. Rokas feast has become the biggest festival of the parish and nowadays it brings crowds to annual celebrations.
Everyone who wants to observe Kražiai should climb 50 steps made of stone to the top of Vytautas Hill. Here, the Grand Duke Vytautas ordered to build one of the first Christian temples in Samogitia. In 1416, St. Mykolas Church was built. In 1475 the church was rebuilt after the first church burned down. In 1478 the altaria was commissioned. In the 16th century, Kražiai Church together with its altaria was one of the richest in the whole Samogitia. By that time the church contained 7 altars and a chapel. At the beginning of the 17th century this church was reconstructed and in 1638 it burned down and was rebuilt between 1646 and 1648. By that time the church’s wooden cruciform plan church was noted, as were its’ altars, it’s Chapel of the Fraternity of St Rosary and a number of liturgical treasures and clothes. In 1709, the church burned down once more. The parish was then converted into a Jesuit temple. The parochial church was rebuilt only in around 1745, and in 1807, during the fire of the town, it burned down once again. In 1904 the project for a new stone church was ready, but the process of construction did not begin. During the fire in 1941 June 25 the wooden church again burned down and was no more restored.
Today, only the tower of church built in 1852, using the bricks of Jesuits church ruins, is still standing.
3D reconstruction of the first Kražiai parish church:
Botanical resort with beautiful landscape. A lot of legends, stories have reached our days about Medžiokalnis. The stories include the holy oak and holy water, which comes from under its roots, sacred fire and a statue of the goddess Medeinė. There was also a menagerie on the Medžiokalnis. Dukes Kęsgailos, Radvilos, Chodkevičiai hunted and rested here as well as Grand Duke Žygimantas Augustas. Medžiokalnis natural beauty inspired the famous European baroque poet Matthew Casimir Sarbievius.
Until 2003, in this place Kražiai cultural house was standing. Now there is beautiful green territory with symbolical monuments for the Kražiai 750, 760 and 765 year anniversaries.
THE CHAPEL OF KRAŽIAI CEMETERY
The cemetery in Kražiai is formed two ways – the old cemetery (fenced with the stone wall) and the new cemetery (fenced with metallic fence). In the middle of the old cemetery in the highest place a stone chapel is standing. It was built in 1857 by the dean V. Butavičius. The Chapel is square formed with cellars. It was a mausoleum of the landlords Šiukštos and Pšeciševskiai families. In the 20st century the Chapel decayed, the coffins of the landlords were robbed. In 1991 the Chapel was restored with donated money.
JEWISH EXECUTION SITE
In 1941 August near Medžiokalnis Kražiai Jews were killed. Now here lays the grave and monument to remember those people.
On the monument is written that 71 Jews then were killed – 6 men and women, 65 children.
There were wooden synagogues complex (summer and winter synagogues) in Kražiai. Unfortunately, they burned during the Kražiai fire in 1941 June 25.
3D reconstruction of synagogues in Kražiai:
THE OLD JEWISH CEMETERY
Near Kražiai town there were cemetery of the Kražiai Jews community. The area is quite big – 2,5 hectares.
In the parish of Kražiai stands the stone Linkaučiai Chapel dating from the Renaissance period. This Chapel was built after 1657 and has preserved its primal look. Near the Chapel was fenced a considerable churchyard, where people were burried. The owners of Linkaučiai were burried in the cellar of Chapel.
ST. GEORGE CHURCH IN PAŠILĖ
According to historical evidence, the Catholic Church was already in existence in Pašilė by the middle of the 15th century. The surviving archival sources take the form of documents from the 19th and 20th century. In the inventory of 1801 it was pointed out that Pašilė Church was wooden and small, and built on a stone foundation in 1781 as a concern of the local landlord Jurgis Jucevičius, who confirmed the foundation in 1788. The Pašilė Church had severely decayed by the middle of the 19th century. In the visitation report of 1883 mention is made that a new church is being built in Pašilė under the diligence of the priest Justinas Davidovičius and his parish. This church has survived until today; it has a Latin cruciform plan, two chapels and a small low tower with an ornamental cross that rises above the main facade.
ST. BARTHOLOMEW THE APOSTLE CHURCH IN KARKLĖNAI
Ignas Šiukšta built a church in Karklėnai in 1767, wchich was an altaria of the Kražiai Jesuit Monastery. This church became a filial of Pašilė parish after the Jesuit Order was eliminated in 1773. Karklėnai Church was rebuilt between 1779 and 1791 and consecrated in 1792. It had five altars: a high altar dedicated to St. Bartholomew, side altars dedicated to the Mother of God and St. Ann, and two dedicated to Christ. The contemporary church, the third to be constructed there, was built in 1871. It had a Latin cross plan, one nave and was insular, utilizing the forms of folk classicism. The elements of the buildings interrior are witness to the rich and long history of this church; there are art monuments from the 18th century and the first half of the 20th century.
There are 5 hill forts in Kražiai subdistrict: Galiniai (Papušys/Pilikė), Paspąstis (Sponstis/Maldokalnis), Piltinė (Bukantiškė), Šilgalis (Pilikė), Karklėnaliai (Biržkalnis).
MONUMENTS FOR PARTISANS
There are several monuments to commemorate the partisans of Kražiai subdistrict.
A STONE WITH „GOD’S FOOT“
A mythological stone, reminiscent of the God’s foot mark, in Pašilė.
Natural monument of the state value in Kražiai area.
In the edge of Kražiai town a hundred years old pine is growing. Local people also call it the pine of blackcocks. In it’s trunk the crucifix is hanging.
Natural monument of the state value in Kražiai area. Greitiškė was a village near Kražiai. Now the village is disappeared and the only oak remembering these times is growing.