Alvydas Šeduikis, employed as an organist at the Telšiai cathedral, erected outside his house on Pionierių g. in Telšiai a free-standing wayside cross bearing a figure of the Sorrowing Christ. A month later, on November 17, 1977, Telšiai City Executive Committee Chairwoman E. Janušauskienė ordered the shrine torn down because it had been erected without a permit from the architect. When Šeduikis refused to tear it down and even vowed to defend it, charges were brought against him. Similar charges have also been brought against (Miss) Danutė Dargužaitė for erecting a shrine at the Telšiai cemetery. This particular shrine was erected with a permit from the architect, but she was accused of misleading the architect, since the sketch she submitted did not show a fieure of Christ, but merely an empty free-standing shrine. It appears that it is permitted to erect free-standing shrines without religious symbols. In fighting for his shrine, Šeduikis wrote the Religious Affairs Commissioner two statements which we are reprinting verbatim:
If we leaf through a picture album of Lithuanian villages or through older reproductions of Lithuanian scenes, we often note one element which indicates that we are viewing Lithuanian scenes and not those of another country. It is a small wooden architectural motif: an ornamented cross, a wayside shrine or free-standing covered shrine, which have been the Lithuanian's faithful companions over the centuries. What astonishing art creations, breathing the unex-tinquishable strength of folk creativity. They have made Lithuania famous throughout the world. Let us examine how this artistic form of expression is rated by art researchers:
In 1916 B. Ginet-Pilsudsky wrote: "During the first part of the 19th century, crosses were so frequent in Žemaičiai that the distance between them was no more than several dozen meters (Archives suisses des traditions populaircs—XX t.(Swiss Archives of Folk Traditions — Vol. 22); therefore the Polish geographer V. Pol called Žemaičiai "God's holy land." In 1926, the French writer J. Maucle-re "was amazed at the sheer number of crosses and shrines. They sprout in every garden, on every lawn, by every roadside and there is nothing more artistic than their great diversity." (J. Mauclere, Sous le del pale de Lithuanie (Under Lithuania's Pale Sky).
Abundant 20th-century world literature also manifests that Lithuania cannot be imagined without crosses and shrines, for instance V. Szukievicz notes in the magazine Vysla that these monuments distinguish ethnographic Lithuania from her neighbors: "The cross that was fashioned in these places is an unquestionableexpression of Lithuania's national creativity, it is a monument that reflects the traditions of that nation's concept of beauty, i.e., it is one of the cultural benchmarks of her glorious past."
Our nation'a cultural heritage in wood did not leave as deep imprints of the past as did the cultures of Egypt, India, Sumeria or other world cultures. In our geographical location, wood placed in the ground survives only four or five decades, and the above-ground portion is affected by dampness, cold, sun and various wood fungi. Čiurlionis and Žmuidzinavičius painted leaning shrines and crosses; today we still see one occasionally, standing near an old homestead or along an abandoned road, usually in the last stages of decay. In the words of G. Salvatori (L'Art rustique populare en Lithuanie (Rustic Folk Art in Lithuania): "These crosses, leaning, falling and again set straight, destroyed and again rebuilt each century by the humble Lithuanian carpenter" have brought to our times ancient mythological information in writings and symbols, ornaments and the selection of building sites; they are an irreplaceable living legacy to science and art, "they manifest the unconquerable will of that small but great nation to live, fighting the devastating conspiracy which men and nature seem to have prepared." The traditions of individual, original and also completely free decorative style, taken from pagan times, have reached us us like a living relay of our spiritual creativity.
Dr. J.(onas) Basanavičius writes in his 1912 introduction to A. Jaroševičius' album of photographs that wayside crosses are vanishing in Lithuania because of neglect. In those days, the tradition to restore crosses was still alive. The Lithuanian loved the Sorrowing Christ made by his own hand; at the crossroads of civilization's storms, he confided his troubles to the Sorrowing Christ who was so like him. In an album entitled Crosses of Lithuania Varnas writes in 1925 that ornamented crosses are vanishing, they are being being replaced by heavy cement and metal crosses. And yet, I. Končius traveled throughout Žemaitija between 1930 and 1935 and established, after counting crosses and shrines, that there were 1.3 per kilometer of road. In the words of M. Alseikaitė-Gimbutienė, roadsides and homesteads are still as if glittering with suns. "Crosses, ornamental circles, stars and fragmented stars—it is a glorious rotation and continual motion, it is rebirth and life, it is the symbol of all we use to ward off death." M.(arija) Gimbutienė The Ancient Lithuanian Religion)
The storms of the last war destroyed manv art treasures, among them part of our wooden architecture. It is no secret that even after the war, local ignoramuses and self-serving individuals destroyed and desecrated crosses and shrines. And at present we see them neglected and decaying, crosses with broken ornaments and images of Christ, and many of them bear a metal plaque with the inscription "Folk Art Protected by the State." The question arises: What is the purpose of the plaque if a believer cannot restore those valuable monuments of folk art, and the plaques do not protect the shrines and crosses against vandals. It is no secret that crosses or shrines laden with figures of saints are primarily religious symbols, they are all without exception commemorative monuments belonging to believers and will survive only if they are passed from generation to generation. It is an integral part of Catholic life which appears very odd to foreigners. Some have construed it as a revival of pagan times and during the times when Lithuanian thinking and press were banned, crosses and shrines were interpreted as prods to national awareness. It is therefore not surprising that the governor general of Vilnius, Murovjev, prohibited by a decree of June 8, 1864 "To erect new and repair old crosses at all unconsecrated sites." And such a decree was necessary because after the 1863 uprising, the relatives of the dead insurrectionists erected, according to ancient tradition, crosses and shrines at the site of death or interment. They were not concerned with politics, but with honoring the eternal resting place of a dead brother or son. But the Czar's government did not maintain the ban for long because the new intelligentsia rising in Europe took an all the more revolutionary stand against despotism, even in Lithuania, and scholars and artists showed an increased interest in the ancient Lithuanian culture. New laws were promulgated on December 1, 1878 and again on March 14, 1896 which lifted the ban on the erection of wooden religious symbols at roadsides, in fields and elsewhere.
M. K. Čiurlionis and S. Čiurlionienė published in 1910 a collection of critical essays, 7n Lithuania, where, among other things, they write: " . . .in ancient times people already thought about art . . . art, having its source in man's soul, grew along with him and developed with him . . . Old shrines contain the seeds of our architecture, for it is there that the style of Lithuanian buildings and furniture will have had its source . . . the future will also show, perhaps in one hundred, perhaps in two hundred years, that Lithuanian plastic art is rooted in the nation's soul. If in no other way, it is in art that the Lithuanians will made a great rare contribution to European civilizations" (see Čiurlionio Dailė V. Lansbergis, Vilnius, 1976). The nation's soul, newly bursting forth with the blooms of rosettes and crosses in Christianity, can alone maintain the Lithuanian's relay of generations in the Christian spirit. The crosses blessing fields, woods, streams, pastures and houses are the most interesting, the most poetic, the most ornamented, the richest in sculptural groupings, containing deep spiritual ties with our most ancient culture.
"One of the most astonishing art creations—the Sorrowing Christ" (V. Rimkus,Folk Art Vol. 1, p. 54, Vilnius, 1969) is in the opinion of most world ethnographers, art historians and sociologists (it is even included in the World Ethnographical Atlas), a masterpiece of folk art. Based on the opinion of a majority of scholars, P. Galaunė states that folk sculptors chose "that moment from the Passion of Christ when he was imprisoned (Folk Art, vol. 1.). Sitting, leaning his head on one hand, often crowned with thorns, brimming with peace, he is lonely and close to every believer. Many beautiful verses have been written to the borrowing Christ, poets have dedicated their deepest feelings to Him:
". . . My dear Lord, is it our misery
That brought you down from heaven to the wayside
Or perchance those clear autumn nights
Have conjured you up from our soil. . .
(V. Mykolaitis-Putinas: Sorrowing Christ Mono mCnesiai (My Months)Anthology of poetry, 1973
Because a rather large portion of present-day Lithuanian Soviet society is comprised of believers, it is thus not surprising that even now, in keeping with an old and very meaningful national tradition, beautiful shrines or ornamented crosses appear near homesteads, at gravesites and elsewhere. In other words, the folk tradition is alive, we need only support and encourage it. It is therefore very painful to confront the beauraucratic outlook of local government officials on this matter.
In October 1977, I erected a free-standing covered shrine next to the housewhere I live with my family. Shortly thereafter, we were visited by the Telšiai City Workers Council of Deputies Executive Committee Chairwoman (Mrs.) E. Jonušauskienė, accompanied by TelSiai Rayon architect-inspector L. Uniokas. She filed a complaint of illegal construction and ordered the covered shrine demolished. This decision was upheld at a meeting of the Rayon Executive Committee held on December 12 of this year.
To date, art. 114 of the LSSR Civil Code has never been applied to the erection of crosses and shrines on one's own property and the beautification of property. On October 11, 1954 the Telšiai Chancery issued letter No. 577 to the faithful: "Crosses may be erected not only in churchyards and cemeteries but also in the yards of the faithful." The chancery reiterated this statement in its letter No. 227 (10/7/72). These letters to the faithful have not been retracted. The tradition of erecting shrines has been alive in Lithuania for over 500 years; I therefore consider the charge against me unjust. And the second charge, that the shrine was erected without a permit from the Rayon architect, is unfounded because the architect does not issue permits for outside home decorations.
On November 17th of this year a similar charge was brought against (Miss) Danute Dargužaitė, a resident of Telšiai. She is charged with erecting a shrine containing wooden statuettes of Mary and Christ on the graves of her loved ones. She had a permit from the Rayon architect, but the city authorities are preparing to demolish the cemetery shrine also. There has never before been such willfulness in Telšiai, and I oppose such current and future decisions. Can Soviet government representatives use such methods when every believer is guaranteed full freedom of religious profession and conscience by art. 52 of the USSR Constitution? Art. 64 of the USSR Constitution directs respect for the feeling of national worth of every USSR citizen. In this instance, art. 68 of the Constitution protects historical and cultural values, including a value that is priceless to us believers and is protected by Soviet and international law: ornamented crosses, shrines and free-standing covered shrines.
With this statement, I am asking you to evaluate properly the historical, ethnographic, religious and artistic architectural value of the free-standing covered shrine and restrain further arbitrary acts by local executive bodies.
Telšiai, 12/77 Alvydas Šeduikis
On December 12, 1977, the Telšiai Rayon Executive Committee decided to compel Šeduikis and (Miss) Dargužaitė to demolish "the illegally erected constructions within one month of receipt of this ruling. In the event that the erectors have not torn down the constructions within the designated time, the public works department is ordered to demolish them at the expense of the erectors." The decision was signed by Telšiai Rayon Executive Committee Vice-Chairman V. Tamašauskas and Secretary R. Liubavičienė.
One month ago, on December 14, 1977,1 mailed you a statement. Thinking that you did not receive it, I am again sending you a copy of the first statement. In this statement I would like to note that the Telšiai authorities reacted to the erection of the covered shrine in a manner forbidden by law. Directive No. 325 issued by the Telšiai Rayon Workers' Council of Deputies Executive Committee, a copy of which I am enclosing, likens the covered shrine to a field kitchen, a garage, whose unauthorized construction is punishable under art. 114 of the LSSR Civil Code. But this article does not even hint that it is forbidden to erect a cross or shrine on one's property.
I fail to understand the basis for making such a comparison. The council members were not shown either photographs of the covered shrine or blueprint sketches; they were not given a chance to hear my explanations or read the statement which I sent you; the covered shrine was unanimously condemned to be removed from the yard.
Moreover, during the second half of December 1977, atheist speakers at various meetings made odd allegations against me to the city populace. They said that a "dangerous criminal" is playing at the Cathedral, "a parasite feeding off the church", that he should be shunned, that he leads children astray while teaching them to sing, and so on. Such information was passed on to teachers, city professional union leaders, even doctors and medical personnel, some students and parents. Not one of the speakers who made veiled references to me is acquainted with me, not one has ever met with me, nor has ever shown any interest in matters which are of concern to me. I was not invited to a single closed or open meeting at which I was discussed. Such information passed on by the speakers is clearly slanderous, such blackmail is being used to condemn me as a builder of a covered shrine.
This spreading of rumors among the city's population and especially among atheist members of the intelligentsia has had another important impact, for my wife, a graduate of the conservatory, cannot find work in her field simply because I am an organist; lies are therefore being used to explain indirectly to the people of Telšiai—and if necessary to a wider audience—why the Šeduikis' are not allowed to work in the community. Such a psychological barrier truly affects relationships between people.
There is no children's choir at the cathedral, but the city's atheists are warning the community that such a group exists. In fact, the concept of a children's choir raised by the atheists is worthy of attention. This concept should be supported not only by cathedral authorities but also by you, Mr. Commissioner. But at present, if children come up to the organ loft with their parents or acquaintances, it is not up to me to decide where and in what fashion the faithful must choose the place to pray.
The odd behavior of certain teachers toward children affects me also. Children who attend church are regularly interrogated, questioned whether they serve at Mass, whether they sing in the choir; records are even kept of how often they attend church and whom they know; an atmosphere of pressumed guilt is thus created, children are forced to confess that they commit an offense by going to church.
These methods used by the atheists in their tight against the faithful have long been condemned by responsible officials of the Soviet Union, European nations and the United States at the Helsinki Conference. Article 52 of the new USSR Constitution prohibits fomenting hatred on the basis of religious beliefs. Legally, atheist propaganda and the fomentation of hatred and discord against the faithful are diametrically opposed premises.
We are living at the end of the twentieth century. Thanks to mass media, the world for the first time sees itself as God's People, for the first time on earth, man is elevated, having freedom of conscience, freedom to know and profess God. The world is yearning for the light of international human love and brotherhood, independent of religion or color of skin. Then why are atheist speakers in Telšiai using medieval hatred and illegal methods, why are they allowed to misuse the law and slander believers?
I therefore ask that you discipline those individuals responsible and that the rumors spread to denigrate me and the faithful be retracted and the behavior of the atheists be properly evaluated. I ask that the free-standing covered shrine near my home not be demolished and that such willful actions agains decorative-sculptural constructions of a religious nature not recur, that under similar circumstances, a body of competent individuals judge the artistic value of such constructions and not liken them to field kitchens or garages as happened in this instance.
January 15, 1978 A. Šeduikis, Telšiai Cathedral organist