As the Knights of the Teutonic Order spread Christianity across the European continent, Lithuania was the last pagan holdout. But in the mid-1300s, Kaunas Castle was besieged and eventually captured by the crusading knights. To celebrate their victory, they reportedly held a Mass at the castle on Easter Sunday. Lithuania was Christianized a few decades later, with pressure from neighboring Poland.
Today, Roman Catholicism is Lithuania’s primary religion. Kaunas Cathedral dates to the early 1400s, though the striking interior was designed in 1771, and is the largest Gothic structure in Lithuania. Dedicated to Sts. Peter and Paul, the cathedral is the final resting place for several prominent Lithuania writers.
On Easter Sunday, a small craft market was set up in the courtyard of Kaunas Cathedral where the holiday Mass would be held later that day. While some of the decorative items looked professionally done, others were sweetly handmade. I bought two colored eggs and an egg carton chicken from an adorable little girl for one euro. I admired her initiative!
My favorite Easter eggs were found at Ruta Zalioji, a small shop in the Old Town selling traditional Lithuanian costumes and accessories. The delicate shells were dyed black and filled with wax to make them sturdier, then hand painted in vibrant hues and folk patterns. I brought home half a dozen to display for many seasons to come.
Locals stocked up for Easter brunch ingredients at the Saturday farmer’s market across from Kaunas Castle; bread and freshly smoked fish seemed to be popular choices. “Wise Grandpa,” a colorful mural by street artist(s) Gyva Grafika, watched over the shoppers.
In many parts of the Catholic world, the faithful perform the Stations of the Cross, and Kaunas is no different. On Good Friday, I stumbled upon the city’s candlelit procession and was moved by the show of devotion by clergy and locals alike. The surprisingly fast-moving cortege was accompanied by a woman singing in the most beautiful voice, broadcast over loudspeakers for all the town to hear.
Good Friday isn’t a bank holiday in Lithuania, unlike in many European countries, so most museums in Kaunas were open (on Saturday, too). I enjoyed an exhibit of abstract paintings by M.K. Čiurlionis at the National Museum of Art, which is named after the artist. The rich tones and symbolism in his work reminded me of Edvard Munch and I left the museum a new fan.
The Museum of Lithuanian Folk Instruments was another interesting diversion. The collection of antique pianos, accordions, flutes, and assorted string instrument is spread across two floors of a 16th century home, and is accompanied by musical recordings.
Thankfully, the city’s restaurants remained open as well. Kaunas is a university town, and as such, boasts an impressive array of international cuisines. I indulged in delicious Mexican nachos and fajitas, an American cheeseburger and fries, and Italian cured meats and pasta during my brief stay. (Sorry cepelinai, we met previously in Vilnius and didn’t hit it off.)
I was able to walk off all that yummy food on the two connected pedestrian streets linking central Kaunas and the Old Town. The streets are lined with quaint two- and three-story buildings – many painted pink! – with wrought iron balconies interspersed with old churches and theaters. The effect is incredibly charming!
Any remaining calories were sweated out as I climbed the steps to the top of Aleksotas hill since the ancient funicular railway wasn’t running. The pretty view of Kaunas was definitely worth the effort!
Would you like to spend a spring weekend in Kaunas, Lithuania?