As happened so often in Vilnius over the centuries, the imposing Church of St Francis and St Bernadine was built on the site of an earlier wooden church and originally formed part of the city’s defensive walls. It was built in the early 16th century as the dedicated church of a Dominican monastery nearby and is a curious mix of Gothic and Baroque styling with a multi-colored brick upper façade. Completely overshadowed by the Gothic pinnacles and spires of St Anne’s Church immediately in front of it, the Bernadine Church nevertheless had one of the finest interiors in Vilnius. It survived several fires and the ravages of war with Russia relatively intact until the Soviet occupation of Lithuania began in 1944 and the ornate interior was destroyed. Now as restoration work is in progress, the church’s 14 intricate altars, the oldest crucifix in the country and the splendidly ornate carved wooden lecterns and pulpits are slowly coming back to life.
The Bernadine Church sits tucked behind the decorative Gothic St Anne’s Church, and together with the Neo-Gothic bell tower and the monastery close by–which now houses the Vilnius Art Academy – the three buildings form the Bernadine Priory.
The Bernardine Church is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday to Sunday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mass takes place every day at various times beginning at 7:30 a.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. on weekends. Admission is free.