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Origins

It was conceived to build a Calvary – Stations of the Cross – in Verkiai as a token of gratitude to the Lord for the victory over the Russian army in Russian–Lithuanian war that lasted from 1655–1661. In 1662, about 170 ha of land on the estate of Verkiai were measured for that. The Chapter of Vilnius allocated a lump sum for this construction. There was to be a second Calvary in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The first so-called New Jerusalem was erected in 1637–1642 in Samogitia, Gardai.

Pilgrimages to sacred places at that time were becoming increasingly popular with Europeans who sought absolution of sins through the visiting of holy relics. The holy relics that connected with the places of the Passion and the Resurrection of Christ in Jerusalem were treasured above all and attracted pilgrims since the first centuries of Christianity. However, not every believer could afford setting out on such an expensive and dangerous journey. This prompted a spread of so-called New Jerusalems or Calvaries in Catholic countries in 15th century. Copies of the route, that Christ had trod, started appearing in the areas where natural features such as hills, valleys and streams resembled of the actual relief of Jerusalem. Such apparent similarities were considered a sign by the Hand of God and an indication that the Lord Himself creates analogues of the Holy Land and allows recognition of them as such.

The source of the knowledge on the layout and buildings in Jerusalem and the length and the route of Jesus’ journey to Calvary were oral or written accounts by the travellers who had been on the pilgrimages to the Holy Land. The key reference for the builders of Calvaries around Europe in the 17th century was a book by renowned expert on Palestine geography, Christian van Adrichem (Adrichomium), published in 1584 in Koln with several subsequent issues, “A View of Holy Land and its Biblical History with Geographic Charts: How Jerusalem Flourished in the Times of Christ” (Theatrum Terrae Sanctae et biblicarum historiarum cum tabulis geographicis: Jerusalem sicut Christi tempore floruit). The book described the topography of Christ’s time, featured maps of the city and provided distances between separate locations related with the events of Christ’s life and His Passion.

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