The City’s Cultural Life – the Dawn of Awakening Consciousness

The city’s stronger economy and administrative apparatus was followed by the emergence of various organizations, movements and the like. As new educational and medical institutions were set up, the intelligentsia also grew, because most of its representatives traditionally until then worked in budgetary institutions located in other parts of the Russian Empire. The intelligentsia hastened to rally into organizations, committees, societies, clubs. In this historical process, Šiauliai was destined to become one of the most important focal points of rallying and activities of Lithuanian intelligentsia. Šiauliai city gymnasium, which not only educated young intellectuals but also promoted their activities, was particularly important. Usually the main organizers of the city’s cultural life were former pupils of the gymnasium and their teachers. The nobles with counts Zubovai at the forefront helped very much by volunteering in the organization and sponsoring of activities.

Among these intellectuals one representative of the clergy distinguished himself. It was Ignacas Štachas, an enthusiastic and active Chancellor of the Diocese of Samogitia, who graduated from Varniai Priest Seminary and in the end of the first half of the 19th century was appointed as a priest in Šiauliai. This man was one of the first proclaimers of teetotalism in Lithuania, whose example inspired Motiejus Valančius to start the teetotalism movement activities. In addition to his direct duties, being an intellectual, educator and historian, I. Štachas soon noticed that one of the most significant reasons for the obscurantism and enslavement of the society was the network of pubs that flourished in the Tsarist Russia, promoting strong drunkenness. He and his affinity group began setting up teetotallers’ fraternities, resulting in considerable reduction of the number of places selling alcohol during the years of his service in Šiauliai. I. Štachas contributed to the repair works of Šiauliai church, and his authority in the city was great. Not without reason, bishop M. Valančius, who visited Šiauliai, later wrote that Šiauliai people were very fond of priests, and their church was worthy of being a cathedral.

In 1860-1861, thanks to the local nobility and authorities, the Public Library was established. At that time, it was one of the first libraries in the history of Lithuania, which in addition to Polish literature had a lot of books on philosophy, nature, and law. Unfortunately, in 1864, after the suppression of the rebellion, it was closed. After the closure of the Public Library, all of its funds were transferred and added to the gymnasium library funds, which became the most important library that had publications of various content. In 1883, V. Bielskis funded and established a secret library, where the works of the very V. Bielskis, N. Chernyshevsky, other Russian and Western revolutionary democrats were stored. The Tsarist authorities wanted but could not close this library because it was set up in count V. Zubovas’s house. This library was particularly important in promoting young people’s progressive views. In 1900, the Public Library was restored and its society, headed by V. Zubovas and attended by such personalities as K. Šalkauskis, K. Venclauskas, V. Bielskis, B. Nurokas and others, was approved. There were more societies and other organizations. In 1868, the Citizens’ Club was founded, mostly consisting of Russian nationality intellectuals – gymnasium teachers and officials, who wanted to spend their free time meaningfully. This Club had its own library, reading room, amateur drama group, etc., it also arranged concerts, various artistic performances. Another very active organization, founded in 1908, was the literary, drama and musical society ‘Varpas’. Although it existed only for six years, it managed to do considerable work. Its activities encompassed most of the cultural life of the city’s Lithuanians. It was a society that acted as a cultural institution: had its own management board, rented premises for a hall containing several hundred seats and a stage, a library with a reading room, and had its own finances. Although it focused on theatre and creation of performances, it also had a choir of 80 members, readers and musicians. There were active Catholic organizations: St. Joseph Workers’ Catholic Society (later reorganized into Šiauliai Christian St. Joseph’s Mutual Assistance Society), Šiauliai division of Lithuanian Catholic Teetotallers’ Society, ‘Darbo’ club intended for female Catholic workers and maids. After the revolution of 1905-1907, Jewish social and cultural life became more active: in 1909-1911, Šiauliai division of Kaunas Jewish Literary Society was developing its activities, in 1912, Jewish music, drama and singing society ‘Gazomir’, which organized concerts, performances, music and literature evenings, was founded.

Another significant accent of Šiauliai cultural life was exhibitions. It is one of the most prominent manifestations of the then cultural life of the city and the result of active efforts of count N. Zubovas, assisted by the landlords of the county. Demonstration of agricultural tools, machines, animals in the exhibitions was aimed at promoting the development of agriculture and industry. The exhibits were brought from both the provinces of Lithuania and provinces of Kuršas, Suwalki, Minsk, Vitebsk, Pavyslis, Prussia districts. The first exhibition was held in 1875; the second, in 1876; the third, in 1879, and later, approximately every three years. In 1914, the exhibition’s events also included theatre troupe and choir performances of ‘Varpas’ society. All these events used to be organized in a specially arranged area, a large exhibition square with a spectacular pavilion building in the centre, around which all the activities took place. This square was located further from the city centre, around the same place where Šiauliai republican hospital now stands.

In the field of literature, active inhabitants of Šiauliai were Laurynas Ivinskis, who was a creator of Lithuanian farmers’ calendars, Bogdanas and Mykolas Oginskiai, the scribe of the marshal of Šiauliai county Aleksandras Mora, the writer of Aušra Juozapas Miliauskas-Miglovara, social and cultural figure Povilas Višinskis, Marija Pečkauskaitė-Šatrijos Ragana, who was inspired by him to write, poet Jonas Krikščiūnas-Jovaras.

The beginning of Lithuanian theatre both in Šiauliai and Lithuania is to be related to the so-called ‘Lithuanian evenings’. For Lithuanians who lived under the rule of the Russian Empire this was the most affordable form of cultural and political activity, struggling for national liberation. In Šiauliai, such events would begin with gegužinės (dancing evenings), which from 1894, were held in Aleksandrija, in the manors of counts Zubovai. On October 31, 1904, mainly by the efforts of Kazimieras and Stanislava Venclauskiai, a public performance ‘Amerika pirtyje’ (‘America in the Bath’) was organized in Šiauliai for the first time in Lithuania, which until then seemed impossible in the Tsarist Empire. Following this and several other public theatre evenings, a group of cultural figures gathered around the Venclauskiai produces several performances, including performances of the plays by Anton Chekhov, and in 1905-1909, a local gymnasium graduate J.Misius, actively involved in theatrical activities in Šiauliai, produces about 12 performances.

The first cinema ‘Elektro-Biografas Modern iš Paryžiaus’ was founded in Šiauliai as early as 1909. The cinema was supplied with a specially equipped electric station, which made the local people call it ‘an electric theatre’. The cinema was equipped with a 180-seat hall. The second cinema named ‘Fantazija’ was founded in 1912. It had a 400-seat hall, and a string orchestra was playing there during breaks and shows. The cinema ‘Fantazija’ was acknowledged the best cinema theatre in the entire Kaunas province.

Šiaulių Gegužinių (1904 m.)

Šiaulių Gegužinių (1904 m.)

Varpo draugijos nariai (1910 m.)

Varpo draugijos nariai (1910 m.)

Amerika pirtyje Palangoje

Amerika pirtyje Palangoje.

Amerika pirtyje Šiauliuose afiša

Amerika pirtyje Šiauliuose (afiša).

Žemės ūkio parodos

Žemės ūkio parodos.



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