World’s second earliest Church-recognised apparition of Mary (after the Virgin of Guadalupe) took place in Lithuania, in the Samogitian village of Šiluva. In 1608 the Virgin appeared to various local people protesting the destruction of a local church.
The church has been more than rebuilt: a long rectangular Christian-themed plaza now dominates the village. At its northern end stands the 1786 Baroque minor basilica of Our Lady of Šiluva with its miraculous altar painting. At the opposite end, the 1924 chapel by Antoni Wiwulski (a genius of monolith architecture) marks the exact place of the apparition. It is surrounded by graves of notable Samogitians. 40 m tall and much less wide the obelisk-like square chapel is unusual in Christian architecture. The centerpoint of its interior is appropriately left for a statue of the Virgin (surrounded by the faithful from every side during the daily Holy Mass).
Each September 8th-16th the square itself becomes a large open-air church as tens of thousands of pilgrims arrive here from all over the world. Prior to the World War 2, massive processions used to depart from every Lithuanian town for a tiresome walk to Šiluva. Soviets persecuted this tradition, arrested local priests and blocked roads, yet Šiluva remained the religious heart of Lithuania to this day.
Tytuvėnai town, 8 km north of Šiluva, is home to a 17th-18th century Bernardine monastery. Closed in 1863 by the Russian Empire it has been long abandoned, retaining the original atmosphere. In the cloister, you may easily imagine monks praying at the centuries-old murals and reliefs that adorn massive arcaded walls which hide the modern-era life outside. The monastery also includes a still-used lavish church, a partly repaired former monk dormitory, and the Holy Stairs chapel (1775) with stairs that should be both ascended and descended kneeling.
Šiluva and Tytuvėnai may be explored as a detour while traversing the Vilnius/Kaunas-Klapėda highway. It may also be easily combined with a visit to the former centers of Samogitia Kražiai, Varniai and Rietavas, with Kražiai being some 30 km west of Tytuvėnai and others further on.