Date today: 26.09.2017  |  Name days: Kurts, Knuts, Gundars

Shrines

First shrine in Latvia – St. Meinhard’s island in Ikskile

On St. Meinhard’s island begins history of the Christian faith in Latvia and history of Livonia. It was named after the first bishop of Ikskile (Üxküll), Meinhard of Segeberg. Every year people all over Latvia come to this island to receive the sacraments at the same place where they were received from the first apostle of Latvia. The island is situated approximately half kilometre from the coast and can be reached by boat that is available specially for this purpose. In July and August the island can be reached by foot as the water level in Daugava is lowered. Even after nine centuries the ruins from the first stone church, which was the first stone building in the Baltic States, can be seen on St. Meinhard’s island.

St. Meinhard arrived in Ikskile between 1180 and 1183 and built a wooden chapel. Around 1184 here he baptized the first Livs – Ilo and Vieco. Many others followed them establishing the first Christian parish in Livonia. In 1886 here was built the first stone church that became a cathedral and was dedicated to the Virgin Mary Assumed into Heaven.

St. Meinhard also built the second stone church in the Baltic States which was situated in Salaspils, on St. Martin’s island. He also created Cathedral Chapter where the monks – canons – lived according to the statutes of St. Augustine. This was the first known monastery for Catholic monks on the Eastern Baltic coast.  

On 1 October 1188 pope Clement III officially incorporated the bishopric of Ikskile (episcopatus Ixscolanensis) into the Prince-Archbishopric of Bremen. In 1201 the bishop Albert moved the episcopal see from Ikskile to Riga but Catholic parish in Ikskile continued to exist. During the First World War the stone church was destroyed. Ancient church was ruined also in the Second World War. During the Soviet times the church stones were used as building material.

On 8 September 1993 pope John Paul II declared bishop Meinhard to be the first apostle and saint of Latvia. In 1997 the newly built church in Ogre was dedicated to St. Meinhard. His feast day is on 14 August and it is celebrated on the first Sunday after 15 August. Every year on this day archbishop of Riga celebrates the Holy Mass on St. Meinhard’s island and baptize the children. It is also a famous place for marriage ceremonies for Catholics and Lutherans. Here also take place concerts of sacred music. 

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Aglona

Aglona Basilica is called the Catholic centre of Latvia and it is the most famous shrine in Northeastern Europe. Every year on 15 August thousands of pilgrims arrive in Aglona to celebrate the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven.

The Dominican order founded a monastery and built the first wooden church in Aglona in 1700. The monks brought the icon of Mary, Mother of God, from Vilnius and placed it in the church, prayed in front of it, and called on all the faithful to do the same. Owing to a number of recovery instances the first pilgrimages to Aglona started. The Dominican fathers initiated the construction of stone church and monastery in 1768. In 1800 the building process was finished.

As the Russian Empire prohibited the affiliation of new candidates to the monastery, the last of the Dominican fathers died at the end of the 19th century and ordinary diocesan priests began to serve in Aglona. In 1920 the first bishop of Latvian origin Antonijs Springovičs was consecrated in Aglona. He was the one who selected Aglona church as the cathedral of the renewed archdiocese of Riga. Right after that the Seminary was opened in the monastery, and after a year, Aglona Catholic Gymnasium.

Aglona Basilica is built in the late baroque style and is decorated with two 60 meters high towers. Groined vaults, arches and columns splendidly decorated in rococo style can be found inside. The church houses a collection of paintings, sculptures and artistic treasures, including the famous icon “Our Miraculous Lady of Aglona” which is uncovered only during religious feasts. The icon is considered to have healing powers. In 1980 pope gave Aglona church the title of “basilica minoris”. Pope John Paul II visited Aglona Basilica in September 1993. Due to his visit extensive renovation works in church and improvements of the surrounding area were carried out. Restoration works were done also from 2011 to 2013.

At the beginning of the 19th century near the church a sulfur spring was discovered. As it was considered to have healing powers the Dominicans built a hospital and many people came there to take the baths. Today the spring named by St. Anthony has lost its healing powers but it still gives clean and tasty water. There is still a tradition for pilgrims to take it home and use in case of illness. 

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Sarkani

Sarkani church is located in Latgale, 18 km from Rezekne, in simple and quite place. The small church is famous for the icon of “Our Miraculous Lady” which is considered to have healing powers. Though the parish is small, it is very active and welcomes pilgrims who pray to Our Lady or want to thank her for hearing their prayers.

There is a legend that in the place where now the church is, was an old, large oak tree, perhaps used for Latvian pagan rituals. One morning the famous icon was found hanging on the oak’s branches. People began to pray in front of it and later built a small wooden church. Historians assert that the first wooden church was built in the 17th century but it is believed that the icon of Our Lady was created earlier, in the 15th or 16th century.

In 1830 Fr. Antons Latkovskis started to build a new church. It was consecrated in 1897. The major feast of the parish is Pentecost when pilgrims come to Sarkani from Ludza, Merdzene, Karsava, Rezekne and other places.  

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Skaistkalne

Skaistkalne church is one of the largest rural churches in Latvia and the second most popular pilgrimage destination in Latvia after Aglona. It is one of the first Baroque style churches in Latvia and is considered as an early Baroque style masterpiece.

There is a legend that colonel and noble Johann von Berg-Carmel has lost his sight but through the prayers he got it back. To thank God for this miracle he promised to build a church. One day when he was hunting, his horse suddenly kneeled on a hill. He translated it as God’s will and ordered to build a church there.

The construction works of the first wooden church started in 1658 and completed in 1666. It was located about 300 m from the current church. Since 1660 the church was served by Jesuits. In 1666 they established permanent mission in Skaistkalne but Jesuit monastery was founded only in 1677.

The current church was built in 1692. Jesuit monastery was closed in 1773 and until 1929 it was served by diocesan priests. On 30 November 1929 the church was given to the Capuchins where they served until 1949. From then the church was served by diocesan priests again. Since 2001 the church is home to Pauline Fathers. If arranged in advance, the monks can lead church excursions and tell about its history. It is also possible to take a look into the sepulchre of the nobles and clergymen.

The church is famous by its icon “Annunciation of Mary” Protecress of Latvian families. The icon comes from the 18th century and is located in the side altar of the church and is especially beloved by newlyweds and families as many of them have experienced generous mercy and answers to their prayers.

On the first Sunday of August of every year the major feast is celebrated in Skaistkalne church – feast of Kanepene. The feast is 3 days long and during these days people especially pray for the sick, married couples and families. Another important feast is celebrated in the first Sunday of May when the church is visited by the bishop of Jelgava and people pray for all families in Latvia. 

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Pasiene

Although Pasiene is a small village in the easternmost point of Latvia, it is known for its Baroque style church dating from 1761. It is one of the most beautiful and magnificent churches in Latvia.

After invitation of the bishop of Livonia Mikolaj Korwin-Poplawski, 12 Dominican fathers from Lithuania arrived in Pasiene in 1694. Soon after Pasiene became an important Catholic centre as Dominicans not only built a church and monastery but also founded school and library.

An icon of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, made after the famous icon “Santa Maria Maggiore” in Rome, was placed in the church. Many faithful who prayed in front of it received many graces. In 1753 church, monastery and library were burnt but icon of the Virgin Mary was miraculously saved. The current church was built with the support of local Count Jan Andrzej Borch who later became Chancellor of Poland.

Dominican fathers really cared about the Evangelization in local area. They had several mission points around Pasiene. They also cared about the education. In 1799 there were 607 books in their library and well maintained archive. Unfortunately, that all was destroyed in later years.

As in 1832 Tsar’s government closed the most of the monasteries in Latgale, Pasiene monastery was also closed. Now the only reminder of the former monastery and its splendour are the ruins near the church as it burnt down in 1837.

In 1882 a fire broke out in the church destroying the large part of the roof, windows and church bells. The inside of the church was not much damaged but the icon of the Virgin Mary disappeared. During the First World War the church towers were damaged but, in overall, the church has not been much modified and its magnificent interior, the craft of the 18th century masters, can still be seen. The altarpiece is the painting of Our Lady who presents rosary to St. Dominic. The main altar is similar to so-called Loreto design – it is possible to get to the icon on the second floor of the altar, similar to Aglona.

In 2008 the apostolic nuncio in the Baltic States Peter Stephan Zurbriggen consecrated restored altarpiece, church and grave monument of priest Jānis Bikšis. He served in Pasiene for 15 years and was well-respected by his parishioners. He was killed by Bolsheviks in 1918. At the same visit nuncio Zurbriggen restored Pasiene as a pilgrimage site.

The major feast of the parish is 26 April when the pilgrims celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Good Counsel. Every year Pasiene church also runs Festival of Sacred Music and Polish days. 

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