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M. Valančius Kindergarten and Samogitian Diocese Museum CLOSED FOR RECONSTRUCTION

In 1415, the Council of Constance approved the decision of the Samogitians to convert to Christianity. Thousands of the Samogitian people were christened by Vytautas, the Grand Duke of Lithuania, and the bishops from Lvov in 1417. The Grand Duke Vytautas himself chose Medininkai (presently known as Varniai) as the center of the diocese. Medininkai Cathedral was christened in the same year, followed by the Samogitian diocese being officially established as a structural division of the Roman Catholic Church.

Years later, Bishop Merkelis Giedraitis took over the administration of the Samogitian Diocese. He was an active manager who did his best to make sure that the Lithuanian language was used across the diocese and that all the priests spoke Lithuanian. He is remembered as a patron of those who were literate and could write in Lithuanian. Bishop Merkelis Giedraitis was the one to invite the Canons Mikalojus Daukša (the publisher of the first Lithuanian book) and Motiejus Strijkovskis (the author of the first printed Lithuanian history book) to Varniai. The meeting of these three bright men could be righteously called the first step of the movement for preservation of the Lithuanian language. When the Tsar closed down Vilnius University in the 19th century, Varniai Theological Seminary was one of the two remaining institutions of higher education still operating in Lithuania. It was the alma matter of Motiejus Valančius, Antanas Baranauskas, Antanas Strazdas, Jurgis Pabrėža, among many others. After graduation, most of the alumni returned there to work. In addition to serving as the center of the Samogitian Diocese in the 19th century, Varniai also planted the seeds of the Temperance Movement and became the center of education and Lithuanian culture.

The Samogitian Diocese Museum was founded in the former Manor of Varniai Samogitian Theological Seminary built in 1770. During his time of serving as a bishop, Motiejus Valančius lived in a wooden one-storey house located in the neighborhood. Although this modest house hardly resembled a bishop’s residence, it was exceptionally significant for Samogitia and the entire Lithuania in the 19th century.

Only a few people knew that gardening was the bishop’s favorite hobby, which in the 19th century was highly fashionable in all manors and presbyteries. Motiejus Valančius planted poplars along the avenue next to his house and had his own garden where he cultivated tobacco and around 20 kinds of medicinal herbs. Even though no trees have remained to these days, the location of the former garden is still called Valančius’ Garden.

In 1927, a monument to M. Valančius was built as a tribute next to the bishop’s former house (created by Sculptor Antanas Aleksandravičius). The Soviet government took the bust down in 1951 and ordered it to be destroyed at the secondary material processing factory. However, the Factory Manager Antanas Norkus secretly took the monument and kept it hidden under the floor in his own house for almost 40 years. In 1990, the bust was returned to its original place.