Thursday, May 18, 2017

Those Places Thursday: Smilgiai Belfry Story

May 2016 photo by Osvaldas Guokas, used with permission

My third cousin Osvaldas Guokas in Lithuania sent the picture (above) and story (below) about the belfry of St. George Catholic Church in Smilgiai, Lithuania:

The Smilgiai Church belfry was constructed at the end of the 19th century.
I believe that Kazimieras Guokas [my great-grandfather] possibly saw this building.
As I wrote in the past, it was the time of Russian occupation.  Russians banned Lithuanian writing, books, and schools; and it was forbidden to construct any new Catholic buildings.
It was impossible to construct the belfry in Smilgiai legally.
But there was a brave priest in Smilgiai.
At first, he told the citizens that he wanted to construct a well near the church. So they started digging the ground and laying a brick foundation. In the [nearby] village of Valiliškiai, he ordered all wooden frames from pine logs.

When all the preparatory jobs were done, the priest called all men from Smilgiai and Parish villages to come help. And they constructed the belfry during one night!

But after some time, a Russian administration controller came from Panevezys.  It was dangerous.
The priest told the local men, that they must throw earth and dirt on the wooden construction before the visit of the controller.  It looked like an old building after this treatment.

When the controller came to Smilgiai, the priest invited him for a rich dinner with alcohol drinks and roasted geese.

The controller did not recognize that the belfry was a new building, and everything ended very well.

In the future, this building was a very important place for the resistance. Priests hid here books in Lithuanian and other forbidden press [materials].

One very important historical person from Smilgiai was Mr. Antanas Bataitis from Valiliškiai. He illegally delivered Lithuanian books from Karaliaučius (Königsberg in German and Kaliningrad in Russian;  today, this city is still under Russian occupation).
The city Karaliaučius was under German Prussian control in those times. Lithuanians printed the books in this city.
Mr. Antanas Bataitis hid illegal books in the belfry and the priest financed this activity.
We have an unique word Knygnešys, in Lithuanian.  It means a person who delivers books illegally.  It is a very respectable epithet for a person in Lithuania.

© Amanda Pape - 2017 - click here to e-mail me.

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