Christian PilgrimagePilgrimages in LithuaniaJohn Paul II and Lithuania

Mother of Mercy, we fly to your protection!
Kęstučio Ipolito Stoškaus fotografija


Celebration of the feast of the Protection of Our Lady during the second week of November began at the Gate of Dawn in 1735. Over time, the feast developed into the current eight-day solemnity of the Dawn Gate Mother of Mercy. The indulgenced feast traditionally concludes with the solemn chanting of the Litany of Loreto by prominent local soloists, accompanied by eminent Vilnius musicians. The feast now takes place during the week of November that includes the 16th day of the month.

As Palm Sunday approaches, vendors create a unique and colourful sight. They gather by the Gate of Dawn to sell ornate batons, known as “verbos”, which are made from dried flowers. These are blessed and then carried in procession during Palm Sunday services.

It is traditional for the annual Corpus Christi procession through the streets of Vilnius to finish up at the Gate of Dawn. The procession was forbidden during the years of soviet occupation but revived after Lithuania regained independence.

Ever since the middle of the 20th century, Holy Mass has been celebrated at the Gate of Dawn, and the Litany of Loreto has been chanted, in both the Lithuanian and the Polish languages. The Lithuanian and Polish communities cooperate in the care and upkeep of the parish.

2008 brought the initiative to revive a traditional Day of Prayer for City of Vilnius in mid May at the Gate of Dawn. The practice dates back to the early 18th century, when a solemn prayer service was held on May 18 to thank Our Lady of the Dawn Gate for her help following a fire in the city. Thereafter, Vilnius residents began to gather at the shrine every year on that day. The city orchestra would play in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the air would fill with hymns and chants from early morning to late at night. It was this custom that inspired composer Stanislovas Moniuška, between 1843 and 1855, to write four cantatas – the Dawn Gate Litanies for soloists, mixed choir and orchestra.

The fires that ravaged Vilnius in times past are in many ways similar to the spiritual confusion that is rampant today. Like fire, it spreads and does damage to souls, leading many people to seek spiritual shelter. Prayer of thanksgiving to the Mother of God unites people of different confessions, encouraging their sense of community and responsibility.