Find out more
Kaunas Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, also known as the Church of Vytautas the Great, is the oldest church in Kaunas city and the only Gothic church in Lithuania with a cross shaped plan. Such composition of the building had no analogues in both the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and in the areas of surrounding countries.
The church has three naves and a hall style. The eastern end of the church has a lower presbytery with a three-sided apse, while the western end has a tall tower. Authentic Gothic vaults still remain in the presbytery, southern chapel and sacristy.
The walls of the church are very thick: nave section – 1.6 m, presbytery and chapels – 1.3 m. The walls have a shell-type masonry: their interior is formed of field stones, while the surface is made from bricks. Gothic brick binding style was applied by alternating between long and short bricks. Cross and diamond-shaped patterns are formed out of burnt black bricks in all of the facades, as well as large crosses in the northern one (sign of Conventual Franciscans monkhood).
According to Jesuit historian Albertas Vijūkas-Kojelavičius, the Grand Duke of Lithuania Vytautas was beaten in battle with the Tartars near Vorskla and nearly drowned in the river. After saving himself, he promised to thank the Virgin Mary by building a church on the bank of the river.
The church was built in around 1400 and belonged to the Franciscans. It was first mentioned in documented sources in 1439. At the time, services were also held here for foreigners. Part of the naves and presbytery were built here at first. It is believed that a tower was also built at the end of the 15th century. In 1600, painter Tomašas Makovskis portrayed the church in his engraving with a tower which may have appeared as a guide for ships navigating through Nemunas river.
In 1655–1661, the church was robbed and damaged by the Swedish and Russian armies. In 1669, it was rebuilt with the funds of the prefect of Minsk castles Mykolas Jeronimas Ivanauskas. The church was damaged at the beginning of the 18th century and renewed in 1712.
In 1812, French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte converted the Church of Vytautas into an armoury. The church was burned down and the monastery was robbed and devastated by the French who lost the war and were retreating from Lithuania. Nevertheless, the church was repaired once again in 1819.
In 1831–1832, it was used as a warehouse for storing food by the Russian army. Both the church and the monastery were closed down in 1845. A police station and an army garrison chancellery were established within the premises of the monastery.
From 1930, the church was known as the Church of Vytautas the Great.
A dock was built at the quay next to the church where sailboats and later steamboats once moored. Goods were transferred from here to other cities and sightseeing tours were organized.
On 13 January 1877, Nemunas water level measuring station was established near the church. On 16 August 1915, observations in the station ceased due to World War I, but were continued by the Germans on 1 January 1916. As of 31 March 1919, observations were continued by Kaunas Waterway District.
The meter of the station was built near the granite wall. Zero altitude was 20.8 m above sea level.