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The way of the cross Žemaičių Kalvarija (Samogitian calvary)

Gardai (Garde) is a Curonian village with a castle that was first mentioned in official documents back in 1253. This was the year when the southern region of the Curonian lands was divided between the bishop of Courland and the Teutonic Order. The network of streets and roads typical of the 13th century has withstood many years to the present days. Having established the Samogitian Diocese in 1417, Vytautas the Great gifted Gardai Village to the Samogitian bishop. In the 16th century, Gardai Fortress was replaced with the Chapel of St. John the Baptist.

By the initiative of Bishop Jerzy Tyszkiewicz, 19 chapels symbolizing the Way of the Cross were built in Gardai during 1637 to 1639. The Stations of the Cross are often known by the name of Cavalry derived from Mount Cavalry also known as Gagulta in Jerusalem, where Jesus Christ was nailed to the cross. Thanks to the endeavor of Bishop Jerzy Tyszkiewicz, Gardai became proclaimed far and wide outside the territory of Lithuania. As an ambassador to Władysław Vasa, the ruler of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, Bishop Jerzy Tyszkiewicz went to Rome to visit Pope Urban VIII. Several years later, in 1644, the Pope granted plenary indulgence to the chapels comprising the Stations of the Cross in Gardai. The painting of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus brought to Gardai from Rome, became famous back in the 17th century for the miracles and graces that attracted more and more pilgrims. The miracles were recorded in a book which, unfortunately, was lost in the passage of time.

There were ideas to name this location favored by the pilgrims as the New Jerusalem. Yet, over time, the name of Žemaičių Kalvarija (Samogitian Cavalry) seemed to be the right fit.

In 1988, Pope John Paul II granted the rank of basilica to the Church of Žemaičių Kalvarija. In his letter to the bishops, the Pope wrote, “The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Grace, is most venerated and revered at the Vilnius Gate of Dawn and other sacred places in Lithuania, such as Šiluva, Žemaičių Kalvarija, Krekenava and Pivašiūnai.”

In 2006, the miraculous painting of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus was adorned by a crown consecrated by Pope Benedict XVI. The plenary indulgence has been held in this town ever since 1639. To this day, tens of thousands of pilgrims from Lithuania and all over the world gather to attend the Great Plenary Indulgence of Samogitian Cavalry in July to witness the archaic Samogitian traditions. One of the traditions that are considered the cultural heritage of Samogitia are the Samogitian Cavalry Mountain Hymns sung by the pilgrims during the indulgence. The Hymns are often simply called the Mountains (Lith. Kalnai). In the present times, the Mountain Hymns are sung in Samogitia at wakes and during the Lent.