This morning I delivered a paper entitled ‘Mendicant missionary journeys in medieval and early modern Lithuania’ at an online symposium hosted by University College Dublin, ‘Temporal journeys in late medieval and early modern Europe’. The paper was part of a panel focussing on the activities of the friars in East-Central Europe.
Franciscan friars were among the first Catholic missionaries to reach the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the last European nation to accept the Christian faith. However, the position of Christianity in Lithuania remained insecure into the early modern period, and mendicant friars played a key role in the gradual Christianisation of Lithuania that lasted into the eighteenth century. Travel through the dense forests of Lithuania and Samogitia in order to access remote communities was a key challenge faced by the mendicants, and this paper addresses the friars’ conversion and Christianisation of Lithuania from the perspective of the journeys they were compelled to undertake in order to reach an intractable, resolutely pagan and sometimes threatening land. Although the Jesuits would overtake the friars as Lithuania’s principal evangelists in the seventeenth century, the friars remained a force to be reckoned with in the early modern Grand Duchy thanks to the pioneering journeys undertaken by early mendicants.
I am grateful to Dr Ben Hazard for organising the symposium and inviting me to contribute, and to Dr Malgorzata D’Aughton for hosting the panel.