The website ChurchPop has published a list of churches so beautiful they will take your breath away, and St. Peter and Paul’s Church in Vilnius seems to be topping the list, which includes other most beautiful churches, as St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, Basilica of the Virgin Mary in Krakow, St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Cathedral in New York, San Francisco el Grande Basilica in Madrid, and others.

St. Peter and Paul’s Church is a baroque masterpiece known for its exceptional interior with about two thousand stucco statues. The square in front of the church is named after Pope John Paul II following his visit to Lithuania.

 

[divider]Info from Wikipedia[/divider]
The foundation of the first church in this location is unknown. While digging the foundations for the present-day church, workers found a sculpture of an unknown knight. That inspired a legend that the first wooden church was founded by Petras Goštautas, a legendary ancestor of the Goštautai family, well before the official conversion of Lithuania to Christianity by Jogaila in 1387. More likely, the church was founded by Wojciech Tabor, Bishop of Vilnius (1492–1507). The wooden church burned down in 1594 but was rebuilt in 1609–16.[4] In 1625, Bishop Eustachy Wołłowicz invited Canons Regular of the Lateran. Their new monastery was officially opened in November 1638.[4] Bishop of Samogitia Jerzy Tyszkiewicz gifted a painting of Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy (Lithuanian: Švč. Mergelė Marija Maloningoji) to the church and the monastery. The painting was brought by Tyszkiewicz from Faenza, Italy around 1641–47, and depicts Our Lady of Graces, patron of Faenza.[6] Even though it was not canonically crowned, it was covered in silver riza and attracted votive offerings.

Central nave looking north-east towards the altar
Central nave looking north-east towards the altar

During the wars with Russia in 1655–61, the monastery was burned down and the church was destroyed. The construction of the new church was commissioned by the Great Lithuanian Hetman and Voivode of Vilnius Michał Kazimierz Pac. It is said that Pac was inspired to rebuilt the church after a 1662 incident when he hid in its ruins and thus narrowly escaped death from mutinous soldiers who later killed Wincenty Korwin Gosiewski, Field Hetman of Lithuania, and Kazimierz Żeromski. Before this project, Pac, having made only a couple relatively minor donations to Bernardines in Vilnius and Jesuits in Druskininkai, was not known as a patron of the church or the arts. Pac, who never married, envisioned that the church would become a mausoleum for the Pac family. The construction works started on 29 June 1668 (the day of the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul) under the supervision of Jan Zaor from Kraków and finished in 1676 by Giovanni Battista Frediani. Pac brought Italian masters Giovanni Pietro Perti and Giovanni Maria Galli for interior decoration. The works were interrupted by the founder’s death in 1682. According to his last wishes, Pac was buried beneath the doorstep of the main entrance with the Latin inscription Hic Jacet Pecator (here lies a sinner) on his tombstone. At the end of the 18th century, lightning hit the church, knocked down a sculpture which fell and fractured the tombstone; the incident inspired many rumors about Pac and his sins. The tombstone is now displayed on the right wall of the main entrance.

The church was finished by Pac’s brother, Bishop of Samogitia Kazimierz Pac, and was consecrated in 1701, while the final decoration works were completed only in 1704. The construction of the church revitalized Antakalnis and attracted other nobles: Sapiehas who built Sapieha Palace and Słuszkos who built Slushko Palace. The interior of the church changed relatively little since that time. The major change was the loss of the main altar. The wooden altar was moved to the Catholic church in Daugai in 1766. The altar is now dominated by the Farewell of St. Peter and St. Paul, a large painting by Franciszek Smuglewicz, installed there in 1805. The interior was restored by Giovanni Beretti and Nicolae Piano from Milan in 1801–04. At the same time, a new pulpit imitating the ship of Saint Peter was installed. In 1864, as reprisal for the failed January Uprising, Mikhail Muravyov-Vilensky closed the monastery and converted its buildings into military barracks. There were plans to turn the church into an Eastern Orthodox church, but they never materialized. In 1901–05, the interior was restored again. The church acquired the boat-shaped chandelier and the new pipe organ with two manuals and 23 organ stops. The dome was damaged during World War II bombings, but was rebuilt true to its original design. When in 1956 Vilnius Cathedral was converted into an art museum by Soviet authorities, the silver sarcophagus with sacred relics of Saint Casimir was moved to the St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church. The sarcophagus was returned to its place in 1989. Despite religious persecutions in the Soviet Union, extensive interior restoration was carried out in 1976–87

 

[divider]Video: St. Peter and Paul Church in Vilnius[/divider]

Video by Udo Heinl