MOTHER OF GOD OF SILUVA
"Lithuania's Greatest Treasure"
The Shrine of Siluva has a remarkable history, In 1251, Lithuania was the last European nation to accept Christianity, becoming the youngest daughter of the Church.
There was a time when Lithuania came very close to leaving the Catholic faith. Something happened in 1608 in the little village of Siluva which turned back, once and for all, the tide of the Reformation heresy which was sweeping over Europe and threatening to engulf this little country.
Two hundred fifty years before Lourdes and Fatima the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared in the village of Siluva, Lithuania.
The story begins in 1457
The story of Our Lady of Siluva actually began in 1457, when Peter Giedgaudas, a diplomat for Vytautas the Great, built the first church in the area and gave the land to the Catholic Church. On one of his many travels he went to Rome and there obtained a magnificent painting of the Blessed Virgin Mary holding the child Jesus. He brought the painting back to Lithuania and put it in the sanctuary of the new church in Siluva.
For several generations the faithful worshiped God and honored the Blessed Mother in their little shrine church.
When the Protestant Reformation swept over Europe, not even this little village escaped its impact. In 1532, the local governor became a zealous Calvinist as did many nobility and intellectuals . . . they in turn forced their will upon the people. The Catholics of Siluva were helpless to resist the repression of their Faith by the powerful gentry. Property owned by the Church was to be confiscated and the land turned over to the Calvinists.
Parish priest hides the treasured painting
When Fr. John Holubka, the parish priest of the Siluva Church, heard what was to happen, he built an ironclad box. He carefully wrapped the treasured painting of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Child, liturgical vestments, and documents which proved that Vytautas the Great had given the land to the Catholic Church and placed them in the box. Then he sealed the box and buried it deep in the ground near a large rock. His action was truly inspired because a short time later the authorities seized the church. It seemed as if the Catholic faith had come to an end in the once fervent village of Siluva.
God miraculously intervenes
Eighty years passed and the Catholic flock, with no shepherd to guide and nourish it, gradually died out. Only a few of the very oldest villagers dimly remembered that there had been a Catholic Church in their village. Children were reared in the Calvinist creed. Suddenly, through an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, God miraculously intervened. This apparition has been proven an actual event, authenticated by a Papal Decree issued by Pope Pius VI on August 17, 1775. The most remarkable feature is the fact that the miracle took place in a completely un-Catholic atmosphere.
Children see a beautiful woman on a rock
One summer day, in 1608, a number of children were tending their sheep in a field on the outskirts of the village of Siluva. They were playing near a large rock, close to a wooded section of the field, shouting merrily to one another in carefree fun. Suddenly one after another stood transfixed, staring in the direction of the rock. In the silence, there could be heard the sound of loud sobbing. Then the children beheld a beautiful young woman standing on the rock holding a baby in her arms and weeping bitterly. Her overwhelming grief was only too evident. She did not speak, but looked at them sadly as she stood there, weeping as though her heart was breaking. So profuse were her tears that they ran down her cheeks and some of them splashed on the rock. The woman was dressed in flowing blue and white robes, unlike any costume with which the children were familiar. Her long, light-brown hair fell softly over her shoulders. A strange light surrounded both the woman and child.
Boy runs to Calvinist pastor
So startled were the children, they could not speak, but merely stood and stared. Amazement soon turned to fright when the woman with her baby disappeared as mysteriously as she had appeared. Then all began to talk excitedly about what they had seen. One of the boys ran to the village to tell the Calvinist pastor. He was told to stop making up such a fantastic tale and to go back to the fields.
Children tell their parents
When the children returned home in the evening, they told their parents and neighbors about the weeping woman. The news spread quickly through the little village, and the next morning most of the townspeople had gathered around the rock. Some were scoffing loudly, but others were impressed by the children's tearful insistence that they were telling the truth. This was proven because, whether the children were questioned separately or together, each told the same identical story, even to the smallest detail.
The Blessed Virgin reappears
The Calvinist pastor, aware of the crowd that had gathered, became alarmed at the gullibility of his people in believing this "Roman superstition," as he labeled the story. He warned them that this was the work of Satan, who wanted to lead them away. As the Calvinist pastor paused to catch his breath, a heart-rending sound of sobbing was heard. All eyes turned to the rock, and there, standing in their midst, was the weeping lady with the baby in her arms, just as the children had described her.
The people stood in amazement. The pastor, too, could do nothing but stare. The woman's face was clouded in deep sorrow and her cheeks were bathed in bitter tears. Finally the pastor regained his composure and asked, "Why are you weeping?" In a voice filled with sorrowful emotion, she replied, "There was a time when my beloved Son was worshipped by my people on this very spot. But now they have given this sacred soil over to the plowman and the tiller and to the animals for grazing." Without another word, she vanished.
People return to the Church
The belief that the Mother of God had appeared in person to chide them for their neglect of the Catholic Faith quickly grew among the people. Most of them heeded her message and began to return to the One True Church founded by her Divine Son, Jesus Christ. So complete was this return that a decade later, on the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, more than 11,000 people received Holy Communion during a mass offered at the scene of the apparitions.
A miracle occurs
Such was the miracle that the Mother of God wrought in the village of Siluva where there had been no church, no priest, no Mass, for almost eighty years. The Bishop appointed Fr. John Kazakevicius to investigate the phenomenon and question all witnesses to the events.
Blind man regains his sight
In many apparitions of the Blessed Mother there is usually a picture or statue associated with the event. Our Lady of Siluva is not an exception. A blind man, more than 100 years old, lived in a nearby village. The stories of the apparitions reached him and he recalled a night, some eighty years before, when he helped Father Holubka bury an ironclad chest filled with church treasures beside a large rock. The villagers led him to the field of the apparitions to see if he could help locate the place where the treasures were buried. No sooner had he reached the spot, then his sight was miraculously restored. Falling to his knees with joy and gratitude, he pointed to the exact spot where the chest had been buried.
Villagers find the buried treasure
The ironclad chest was dug out of the ground and when it was opened, there perfectly preserved was the large painting of the Madonna and Child, several gold chalices, vestments, church deeds, and other documents. The painting was enshrined permanently in the Basilica of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary and is venerated to this day as the Miraculous Image of Siluva.
Over the years, many miracles have been recorded and the shrine has experienced numerous changes and larger churches had to be built to accommodate the pilgrims. Devotion to Our Lady of Siluva was growing until World War II brought about the destruction of freedom in Lithuania.
Since then, this world has seen many changes. We find ourselves surrounded by moral decay and many have lost their way. Today, Our Lady of Siluva is our most powerful intercessor before Almighty God. She once brought Lithuania back to the Church, so let us pray that . . .
The painting of Mary and the Child Jesus which presides over the main altar of the shrine was considered, until recently, a relic of the 15th-century church which had been hidden in the iron chest with the legal documents and rediscovered with those documents at the site of the apparition in 1608.
But scientific studies during work to restore the image in 2001-2003 showed, almost without doubt, that the image is the work of a local painter from the early 17th century. Most likely it was painted after the apparition, for the new church in Šiluva, and later was enlarged, adding the part below the feet of the Child, to suit better the enlarged church which was completed in 1651.
It is a copy of the icon Salus Populi Romani, which is venerated in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome, the oldest Western church building dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The icon portrays the Mother of God with great dignity. Her eyes seem to draws viewers to look at her Son. The Child, seated in her arms, looks at his Mother while blessing the people with his right hand.
The Šiluva image, an oil painting on cloth, follows the same scheme as the Salus Populi Romani. Usually it is covered, except for the faces and hands of Mary and Jesus, by a coat of gold and silver. The cover was made in 1674 using ex votos (devotional items that pilgrims often left in thanksgiving for special graces). Since the 17th century, local bishops’ reports to the Holy See about Šiluva stress that people have great devotion to this image and obtain special graces when praying before it.
In 1775 the Holy See granted permission to solemnly crown Mary and Jesus in the miraculous image of Šiluva. But before going ahead with the coronation, the recently installed Bishop Steponas Giedraitis decided to investigate the widely believed miracles. He set up a commission to interview people under oath, and to examine the ex votos and the written accounts of miracles.
Finally, in 1786, the bishop set a date for the coronation: September 8, the shrine’s titular liturgical feast. He announced the decision in a circular letter which said the following:
The image was adorned with two crowns, made from a pound of gold. Some 30,000 of the faithful took part in the solemn three-day celebration. Besides multitudes of ordinary people, high ranking state officials from Lithuania and Poland were on hand, as well as members of the nobility and a dozen bishops. (2)
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