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Pažaislis Monastery – Church of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Camaldolese Monastery is located in Pažaislis, on the peninsula of Kaunas Lagoon. The ensemble is considered to be one of the best late Baroque examples in Northern and Eastern Europe.
Pažaislis Church and Monastery Ensemble is one of the most excellent late Baroque architecture masterpieces in North-eastern Europe. The sanctuary was built for the Camaldolese monks in the 17th century by the Chancellor of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania Kristupas Žygimantas Pacas (1621–1684) and was situated in a remote forest in the outskirts of Kaunas. The ensemble was designed by Italian architect Giovanni Battista Frediani and decorated with the works of Lombardy sculpture masters as well as frescos of the painter from Florence Michelangelo Palloni. The uniqueness of the ensemble is determined by its exceptional architectural solution. A concave church facade was used for the first time in Europe, as well as a rather rare hexagonal plan, and an axial symmetrical composition of the whole monastery.
Pažaislis was famous not only for its artistic monastery buildings or the devout life of Camaldolese monks. The pilgrims who gathered here each year for the shrine’s July 2 feast were also drawn by the painting of the Virgin Mary known as the Camaldolese Mother of God, which was given to the hermits by the patron of the complex and is renowned for special graces. The monastery’s dramatic history, spanning more than 300 years, touches on numerous traditions of spirituality as well as wars, fires and other disasters. Today the monastery is cared for by the Lithuanian Congregation of the Sisters of St Casimir who seek to revive and continue the traditions of divine worship while also opening the doors to new expressions of social life and culture.
The church is the most important accent of the ensemble. It has a Baroque style, a Latin cross plan and a hexagonal 53 m high dome. A sundial can be found in the southern facade. The walls are plastered and the window and door rims are made of grey sandstone. The main area of the ensemble is surrounded by a 2.5 m high solid masonry fence covered with tiles. The plan of the complex is reminiscent of the coat of arms of Camaldolese monks – two pigeons drinking from one cup.
It is said that at the beginning of the 19th century the monastery was devastated by the Napoleon's army. The treasures of the monastery were hidden somewhere by the monks, and the copper bell was buried in the garden.
Another legend says that two bells were dropped on the ground by the French, one of which rolled down to Nemunas river. From that day, when the monastery celebrated its annual feast on July 2 and rang the bells of Pažaislis, the bell that sank in Nemunas would also respond from the depths of the river.
There is also a legend saying that there is a tunnel built from the cellar of the church to the other side of Nemunas river or even to the Kaunas Carmelite Church. The entrance of the tunnel is supposedly hidden somewhere on the slope of the Nemunas river.