The Church of St. Francis and St. Bernardine is one of the largest gothic sacral buildings in Vilnius. It composes a unique architectural ensemble with St. Anne's Church, but it is much older and higher than the latter.
In 1469, Bernardine monks that had recently settled in Vilnius built a wooden church that was later replaced by the brick one. At the beginning of the 16th century, the church was totally reconstructed. Originally, the church was a part of the city's defensive wall, and this, in fact, explains its modest decor. Since then the loopholes under the roof in the northern facade have remained. After numerous renovations in the 16-17th centuries the church acquired renaissance and baroque style elements. The baroque decor of the altars, pulpit, organ choir and tombstones softens the strictness of the gothic lines. During the Soviet occupation the church was handed over to the Art Institute. In 1994, it was returned to the brethren of St. Francis.
Now the Bernardine Church is being restored and soon it will acquire its former beauty. But even now the splendor interior of the church enchants the visitors. The dominants of the interior are fourteen rococo style altars decorated with beautiful wooden sculptures. The church features the oldest known crucifix in Lithuania, which dates back to the 15th century. The unique mural painting decorating the walls of the naves dates back to the 16th century and combines renaissance and gothic elements. The scenes on biblical themes are decorated with inscriptions in gothic character and floral ornaments. The church is famous for the plenty of the ornate tombstones. Among them one should mention marble tombstones of Stanislaus Radziwill in the north nave (1618-1623) and Piotr Wiesiolowski in the south nave (1634).
The Bernardine monastery that is situated near the church is the oldest brick building of the entire complex. It was constructed at the end of the 15th century. The monastery soon became one of the cultural centers of the medieval Lithuania. It was famous for its rich library, containing unique manuscripts and books. In 1864, the monastery was closed and the building was reequipped to soldier's barracks. In 1919, it was handed over to the art faculty of the university, later - to the Art Institute. Now the cloister houses the Vilnius Academy of Art.
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