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Publication . Part of book or chapter of book . 2015


Rowell, Stephen Christopher;
Open Access
Published: 01 Jan 2015

In 1935 a politically active physician was exiled from his urban home in northern Italy to the countryside several hundred kilometres away. There he found himself in a world of squabbling petty gentry, overworked peasants and negligent, fornicating clergy. Ordinary people had recourse in their spiritual life more often to folklore, witchcraft and superstition, the exile noted, than to the parish church and its despised priest. The people placed their faith in gnomes and magic spells. They even said of themselves that Christianity (and hence Civilization) had never reached as far as their land. Even so those same apparent pagans did attend Mass on high holidays and venerated the Blessed Virgin Mary. The physician in question was the Italian anti-fascist Carlo Levi; the apparently God-forsaken land was Lucania (Basilicata), in southern Italy, not Lithuania. Similar stories of the remnants of ancient arcane behaviour might be told of peasants in other western European countries. When reading sixteenth-century Protestant polemical literature such as the De diis Samagitiarum caeterorumque sarmatarum et falsorum christianorum of Jan Łaski with its list of the pagan deities and of the Žemaitijans and Sarmatians and other false Christians, or the Annual Reports sent to Rome by Lithuanian Jesuits describing their missionary efforts in the Lithuanian and Livonian countryside, we might wonder whether for them Christ had stopped at the Polish border.


Lithuania ; The Grand Duchy of Lithuania ; Pagan Lithuania ; Christianity ; Catholicism ; Orthodoxy ; The Russian Orthodox Church ; The baptism of the ruler ; The diocese of Vilnius ; The Teutonic Order

45 references, page 1 of 5

Torunensia Historica, 1] (Toruń, 1983), 9-34, here pp. 31-4. For a synthesis

Krikščionybės Lietuvoje istorija, ed. V. ališauskas (Vilnius, 2006), 109-12. 3 The history of missions and international diplomacy under these rulers is analysed

and the relevant literature cited below, pp. 77-108; 119-48; 221-60. Recent

(1009) and the later reign of Mindaugas was reflected in a 2001 conference held

mitteleuropäischen Kontext, ed. V. Dolinskas (Vilnius, 2005), an echo of the

1987 Lithuanian Conversion conference held in the Vatican, published as La

Ecclesiastica in Occasione della Lituania Cristiana (1387-1987). Roma, 24-26

Giugno 1987 [Atti e Documenti, 2] (Vatican City, 1989). 6 Kodeks dyplomatyczny katedry i diecezji wileńskiej = Codex diplomaticus ecclesiae

(Cracow, 1932-48), no. 564, p. 677 (7 September 1503) and Vilnius, Lietuvos

F 256, b. 3032 (1531), cited in Paknys, 'ankstyvasis LDK', 110-11. 7 Folk practices similar to those in Lithuania were recorded in Polish sermons:

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