Samogitians are a Baltic tribe that lived in the territory that covers the western part of present-day Lithuania. The history of this tribe is special. Together with the baptism of the Samogitians more than 600 years ago, the baptism of the entire country was completed; therefore, this current ethnographic group had a great influence on the historical development of the country. The baptism of the Samogitians and their subsequent history proved how strong, stubborn and persistent they are.
Samogitia was a nation with its own land, language and traditions. It was first mentioned in 1219 in historical sources when a contract was signed with the Samogitian dukes in Volyne, Erdvilas with Vykintas, who had land in the western or southern part of Samogitia, and with Šiauliai Duke Bulionis.
On 22 September 1236, the Battle of the Sun (Battle of Šiauliai) took place between the Samogitians, led by the Samogitian Duke Vykintas, and the army of the Livonian Order of the Sword. The battle ended in a Samogitian victory: the Livonian Order of Swords was crushed and the conquest of other Baltic lands was stopped. The success of the Samogitians in the Battle of the Sun was mainly due to the fact that at that time the northern and western Samogitians maintained close ties and cooperated. This type of cooperation also occurred in the fights against Mindaugas.
The Battle of Durbe was the greatest victory of the 13th and 14th centuries in the wars with the German Order. The Battle of Durbe thwarted the German Order’s attempt to occupy Samogitia.
The Samogitian Alka Museum located in Telšiai introduces visitors to the unique Samogitian way, their history, the nature of the region and the way of life of their people. Founded in 1932, this museum is the most important museum treating the history of the ethnographic region of Samogitia in all of Lithuania. The museum is of ethnographic nature and contains collections of ethnography, archaeology, folk art, applied and fine art, history collections and the cultural heritage of various manors.
The exhibitions of the Samogitian Alka Museum reflect the diversity and strong character of the rich region of Samogitia, as well as its historical downfall and the subsequent changes in the region. Unique collections are exhibited in the museum: the rich legacy of the Samogitian manors, cross-stitch exhibits included on the UNESCO World Heritage List and folk art. An impressive archaeological exhibition is also on display. The archaeological exhibition is astonishing thanks to its variety and abundance of Curonian and Samogitian jewellery, and the subtlety of symbols and patterns on them.
The museum exhibits the heritage of various manors. In addition to the aesthetic fascination that inevitably comes after a visit to the exhibition of Samogitian manors, the descendants of people associated with the region’s manors go there to look for surviving documents, images, and objects belonging to a particular manor’s past. Foreign scientists come to study the archaeological finds protected by the Samogitian Alka Museum. The exhibition of manor heritage always attracts attention: a set of hunting furniture and works of art by Pasquale Romanelli, Anibale Carracci, Vincent Slendzinski, Francis Smuglevich, and a painting entitled Worship of Kings, which is suspected be a part of Lucas Cranach the Elder’s workshop.
The museum also has a special legacy of old works – saints worshiped by Samogitians and their images made of wood. The sculptures of the Pensive Christ receive special attention because of the way he is depicted – in a unique manner, which is relatively rare in other countries.
There are many symbols of bears in the interior of the museum. Samogitians know that the spirit of their ancestors is within them and the totemic animal that protects them – the forest bear and the spirit of success.
An exhibition of Samogitian villages can be found at Malūno 5 in Telšiai. This exhibition covers an area of 8.5 ha. Samogitians loved independent living in single-family homes, avoided close neighbours and only settled in a village if necessary. Samogitian huts stand out for their simplicity and massiveness. The exhibition contains 16 authentic 19th and 20th-century buildings: there are three different homesteads, a large farmer’s homestead with a dwelling house and six farm buildings. The homestead of an average peasant has a dwelling house and three farm buildings, while the homestead of a poor peasant consists only of a hut and a barn. Authentic furniture and household items are exhibited in all buildings. The tallest building is an English-style windmill with a forge inside.
The Rainiai Chapel of Suffering is located in the Village of Rainiai in the Telšiai district, about 5 km southeast of Telšiai. Built in memory of the site of Soviet massacres in Lithuania, the chapel’s ceiling is painted with frescoes depicting the victims of Rainiai and the windows are decorated with stained glass depicting suffering. There is an exhibition in the basement that recounts the painful tragedy dating back to the beginning of the Second World War when the Bolsheviks took 76 political prisoners (teachers, lawyers, farmers and students) from the former Telšiai Prison and brutally killed them in the Rainiai Forest. The chapel is open on Sunday for mass. Visits at other times are arranged through the Alka Museum.
The Samogitian Diocesan Museum is located at S. Daukanto 6 in Varniai. It is believed to be the site of a former pagan worship service. The museum conducts workshops in the former late Baroque building of the Samogitian Seminary. It was built around 1770 after the administration of Tsarist Russia closed Vilnius University. The Varniai Seminary and Vilnius Faculty of Medicine were the only higher education institutions left in Lithuania. The Samogitian Diocese Museum was founded in 1999 and it presents one of the two former dioceses in Lithuania: the Samogitian (Medininkai) diocese (15th to 20th centuries), the centre of which was Varniai for almost 450 years, occupying a special place in the religious, cultural and political life of Lithuania and leaving a bright mark on the history of the country. The aim of the diocese was to spread and nurture the Christian and cultural values of Western Europe in Lithuania, which had an impact on the development of democracy, the strengthening of civil society and the growth of the individual as a fundamental value.
In front of the Samogitian Diocesan Museum stands a magnificent monument to Bishop Merkelis Giedraitis and Mikalojus Daukša, commemorating the 400th anniversary of the release of M. Daukša’s Postilė. The initiator and builder of the monument is the Samogitian Cultural Society. Lake Lūkštas hosts a music festival and the Varniai ensemble is full of historical, cultural and spiritual objects, including the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, the Samogitian Seminary, St. Alexander’s Church, and the residence of Bishop Motiejus Valančius. All of it is an attraction for many tourists in Varniai.