The Church Heritage Museum was founded in 2005 by the Vilnius Archbishop Metropolitan Cardinal and established at St. Michael the Archangel Church in 2009 after restoration efforts had provided an appropriate space for showcasing the sacred objects. Whether or not your interest lies in religious art, you are sure to appreciate the artistry and amount of precious stones and metals that went into creating the pieces in the collection.
St. Michael the Archangel ChurchThe Church of St. Michael the Archangel was built at the end of the 16th century by a figure important to Vilnius’s history. Leonas Sapiega held various official titles, including Chancellor of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In exchange for building the church and taking care of the Sisters of St. Clare, Bernadine nuns, the nuns would pray for important people, including members of the Sapiaga family. The church also became a mausoleum for Leonas Sapiega, his two wives, and other members of his family. His tombstone, with a sculpture of his image and the images of his two wives, are still a part of the church’s interior. Now this Renaissance-style structure is home to a superlative collection of religious textiles and metalwork.
Collection of the Church Heritage MuseumThe Vilnius Church Heritage Museum comprises three floors of religious objects which came from Lithuanian churches. The main floor, where the tombstones of the Sapiegas can be viewed, displays many of the most interesting and priceless items, including gold and silver chalices, gem-encrusted monstrances, work with enamel and porcelain elements, and crystal-enclosed reliquaries. An audio tour provides more information about each piece, labeled in Lithuanian and English. Some of the most remarkable pieces include crowns for icons of Holy Mary and Baby Jesus; the 16th-century Great Monstrance made in Vilnius; and the reliquary of St. Stanislas, which displays a portion of the arm bone of the saint in a gold-and-silver sculpture of a forearm and hand.
The basement level contains more gold and silver items, reliquaries, and chalices. The second floor allows the visitor to view liturgical vestments up close. They are presented in drawers, which the visitor can open, revealing religious fashions from a variety of eras. Made of velvets and silks, embroidered with gold and silver, given a relief effect by the skill of the artist, encrusted with hand-sewn sequins, and depicting sacred imagery, the exhibit offers the viewer an up-close look at the level of detail demonstrated in each piece.
Practical InformationThe Church Heritage Museum is located on Sv. Mikolo gatve in Old Town Vilnius, near St. Anne’s and St. Bernadine’s Churches. It may be visited before a trip to Uzupis, which is also nearby. The museum’s exhibitions can be viewed within the span of a couple of hours, but an audio tour of the main floor’s works will require more time. Because the museum is small, it is easy to spend as much or as little time examining pieces from the collection.
The museum is open every day except Sundays, Mondays, and national holidays from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm. The entry fee is 10 litas for adults and 5 litas for students, seniors, and minors.
Visitors can also purchase English-language books about the museum and its collections. Special exhibitions are also sometimes held within the museum alongside the permanent exhibition.