What religion was practised by the people of Lithuania before their conversion to Christianity in the 14th century?

Lithuania was the last place in Europe to adopt Christianity. Before 1387, when the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was finally baptised into Roman Catholicism as a condition of the dynastic union with Poland, its people were pagans.

This article was first published in BBC History Magazine in 2011

Lithuania was the last place in Europe to adopt Christianity. Before 1387, when the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was finally baptised into Roman Catholicism as a condition of the dynastic union with Poland, its people were pagans.

The central characteristic of their religion was the veneration of the forces of nature held to be sacred, personified in the form of various deities. At the top of the pantheon was Dievas, who ruled the universe from his kingdom in the sky. Other gods included Perkunas, god of thunder, lightning and the atmosphere, and Patrimpas, protector of flowers and plants.

These gods were worshipped in sacred groves and forests where priests called krivis expressed the will of the gods at stone altars, and holy fires were guarded by vaidilutès, the Lithuanian equivalent of vestal virgins. Lithuanians offered regular sacrifices and held a strong belief in the afterlife, burying their dead with food and household goods. In 1382, just five years before conversion to Christianity, a grand duke called Kestusis was buried in the company of his horses, falcons and hounds.

Even after conversion, paganism never fully died out and eventually enjoyed a small revival between the two world wars under the title of Romuva, a name taken from one of the last ancient pagan temples. It enjoyed another revival following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and today a small pagan community keeps the ancient traditions alive.

Answered by Dan Cossins, freelance journalist.

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