A Contribution to the History of the Conversion of Lithuania

A Contribution to the History of the Conversion of Lithuania

By Zenonas Ivinskis

Baltic and Scandinavian Countries, Vol.5 (1939)

Introduction: The Lithuanians became converted to Christianity only five hundred and fifty years ago, and their final adoption of it constitutes one of the most serious problems of Lithuanian history in the fourteenth century. It had far-reaching effects on the whole future destiny of the Grand Duchy, and because the slowness with which they received Christianity had the most painful results for the Lithuanian people, the historian must consider the earlier attempts to baptize them if he is to grasp the reason why Lithuania became the last refuge of paganism in the whole of Europe. For all through the Middle Ages, while Christian culture was rising under the shelter of the Church in the West, while science was developing, schools were rising, and monasteries – at that period centres of cultural as well as religious life – were being founded in hundreds, Lithuania’s plains were lying in darkness, unknown to history and concealed by the all-pervading fog of paganism.

After the journeys to Prussia of Adalbert of Prague (Archbishop Wojciech), who died in 997, and the monk Bruno of Ouerfurt, who died in 1009, no more was heard of missionary activity among the Balts for two centuries. During this period, the period in which Henry IV made his journey to Canossa, Western Europe was devoting all its attention and all its energy to the conflict between Church and State. Then came the Crusades to draw attention to Palestine. It is true that attempts to bring the Prussians to Christianity were made by Poles – and Polish historians attach considerable importance to them – but they must have been confined within narrow limits, for they left but faint traces among the Prussian people.

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