The Triumphal Route in Vilnius

The triumphal route was a path along whereby a ruler, important state official or honourable guest would go in a procession in the city. The ceremony of entering a city was a symbolic demonstration of social and legal ties. Of great importance was the regalia, order of placement of the landowners and state officials, the place of stopping, celebratory speeches, performances, and the usage of other signs of respect. The traditions of meeting rulers developed in the Middle Ages, with the entering traditions at the end of the 16th century becoming a model with a repertoire of certain motifs that were adapted for various purposes. The ceremonies of meeting rulers were repeated with the voivode’s entering the capital of the voivode, the bishop entering the centre of the bishopric, and the meeting of envoys in other ceremonies.

In the twists and turns of the “royal way” – the changing centres of power in the city

The triumphal route joined the symbolic and functional city centre, which included the use of the ruler’s residency, Cathedral and Town Hall Square, which were most important buildings of Vilnius, an autonomous city, the location of the bishopric, and the capital of the GDL.

In historiography, the route of processions from Rūdninkai Gate to the Palace of the Grand Dukes was known as the “Royal road.”

However, after the Deluge, when the devastated castle lost its importance, and the rulers hardly visited Vilnius, the celebratory road changed and reflected the changing political situation of the GDL capital as well as the new “centres of weight” in the city.

After the Deluge, there were only two meetings of rulers organised in Vilnius: for John II Casimir in 1664 and for John III Sobieski in 1688. The rulers were met in the outskirts of the city, and afterwards accompanied by representatives of the Vilnius voivodeship, landowners and merchants on horses until the city. The Vilnius voivode, bishop and city magistracy would then greet them at Rūdninkai Gate. Another place for the stopping of the procession was near the Town Hall, where the ruler was met and further accompanied by a row of artisan guilds and merchants. The route went along the Castle Street through St. John’s Church, where the rulers were greeted by representatives of Vilnius academia.

After the wars of the middle of the 17th century, the celebratory road ended at the cathedral, and no the royal palace of the dukes, from where the participants of the celebration would go to feast at the residence of a noble.

In the 18th century, the meeting of guests happened more frequently near the Gate of Dawn. Perhaps this was due to the route of their arrival (for example, the Vilnius voivode came to the entering ceremony from the former Nemėžis Manor that was on the road from Ashmyany to Medininkai. Nemėžis Manor was where the greetings of representatives of the voivodeship were received on the eve of the event), or the growing religious significance of the Gate of Dawn due to the growing cult of the Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn painting. The Discalced Carmelites established themselves alongside this section of the ruler’s way (now Aušros Vartų Street) and built St. Theresa’s Church there, while the Jesuits built St. Casimir’s Church. The Uniates’ Church of the Holy Trinity also stood there. These objects became places for stopping in the procession, where the monks would greet those entering.

Behind the scenes of a splendid Baroque play: subjects’ hopes, and rulers’ promises

The celebrations of entering the city were one of the most impressive events of the city at the time. The splendour and theatrics that was characteristic for many expressions of Baroque culture were apparent in these celebrations.

Luxury was put on display in the procession, which was associated with splendour.

It was emphasized in descriptions of celebrations (for example, the decoration of steeds taking part in the parade wore luxurious textiles and precious stones).

An important element of the celebrations was a literary work for the occasion (both visual and spoken). Welcome speeches were read and works made for this event were printed and given to those in attendance. Allegorical dramas were performed (in 1664, John II Casimir was met by students of the Vilnius Academy who put on a allegorical drama about war and the king’s victory) The decoration for the occasion in the city was made up of luxurious textiles, flowers and lighting elements that changed how the city’s streets and squares looked. The most important element of the celebrations was what was known as celebratory architecture. These were temporary constructions created for specific celebrations: arcs of triumph, pyramids, columns, decorated with painted and sculpted images, coats-of-arms, cyphers and emblems that formed visual metaphors. They expressed respect to the new leader and the hopes that were tied to the duties of the person entering. Various groups in society created an image of their ruler and provided it in their own way. As was pointed out accurately in the 18th century publication, “the city called their king their father, the school – the wise one, the Town Hall – the just one, and the Church – the pious one.”

Various motifs were also used in the decorations of the celebrations for meeting the voivode. For example, on the occasion of the entering of the Vilnius voivodeship by Mykolas Oginskis (Michał Ogiński), decorations built with city funds had the image of the Ogiński coat-of-arms (known as the Brama coat-of-arms) alongside that of the voivode, showing him as a ready protector of all the people of the voivodeship (above the coat-of-arms was a Latin inscription reading “Open [Gates] to All” and under it a Polish inscription reading “the Brama of the enlightened Ogiński family means,/That no one has blocked the road to the Voivode”). The Basilians of Vilnius, in greeting the voivode, accentuated the Ruthenian origins of the Oginskis in the decorations, linking the new voivode with the close ties of the order (“King, born of royal Ruthenian blood/Here, the blissful, receive our Ruthenian greetings”).

Sound effects underscored the celebratory splendour of the city – guests were met with cannon and rifle fire, along with the sound of drums and trumpets, together with the music of choirs and ensembles that came from the town hall square and city gates. All of this created the effect of a massive celebration. City inhabitants of all classes participated in the festivities. The audience was an essential part of the ceremony thus it was essential to spread news about these events. The descriptions of celebrations that were published in newspapers or special publications not only disseminated information, but also explained its meaning. The texts would be in par with the ceremony itself in terms of its meaning.

The tradition of celebrations remained up until the very end of the survival of the state. The nature of the celebratory works did not change much, despite the spread of the ideas of the Enlightenment. The tradition of decoration can even be seen in the 20th century, though most often in church celebrations.

Lina Balaišytė