Is Vilnius' cathedral under threat?

  • 2005-02-16
  • By Milda Seputyte
VILNIUS - One of the main symbols of Vilnius 's the Cathedral Basilica 's has come under intense scrutiny recently after reports surfaced that it had incurred significant structural damage from construction at the Palace of Kings next door.

The cathedral's pastor, Ricardas Domeika, expressed alarm in an interview with the Lietuvos rytas daily last week about the expanding cracks in the church walls. He implied that the palace's ongoing restoration could be the culprit.

Water leaks in the expanding cracks in the facade were causing headaches for the church maintenance, Domeika said.

"The ground is shifting, and it appears the building is falling apart because of it," Domeika was quoted as saying. He also hinted that the construction of the King Mindaugas Bridge two years ago was another contributing factor.

However, when contacted by The Baltic Times, the pastor refused to confirm these concerns, saying that no in-depth examination had been conducted so far.

Although he admitted that the cracks in the cathedral's facade were enlarging, Domeika was careful not to accuse palace engineers of negligence, and stressed that he had no evidence to make conclusions.

The area surrounding the cathedral, once the territory of Vilnius Castle, is known for its unsteady soil.

Hundreds of years ago this location was a swamp. Today, groundwater constantly threatens the church's foundation, as soil depths range from a mere 20 centimeters to two meters in places.

Speaking off the record, engineering experts say that construction in the palace is quite possibly the primary cause of church damage. "The influence depends on the distance of the construction. It's also important to be aware of the ground's natural fragmentation angle, which might throw off the basement level of the building," one engineer said.

However, not everyone agrees. The head of the Cultural Heritage Institute of Vilnius, Jonas Glemza, was unwilling to admit that the new palace could provide grounds to worry.

"I have heard rumors that the walls of the cathedral are breaking because of construction at the Palace of Rulers. I have asked the examiners to find out how much truth this holds," he said.

Reconstruction on the Palace of Rulers was started four years ago under the predominant initiative of PM Algirdas Brazauskas. The mansion used to be the residence of Lithuanian 's Polish rulers. For many, the idea of reconstruction seems illogical, as only a couple of drawings remain on what the building could have looked like. Therefore, construction essentially was started from scratch.

Domeika implied that perhaps criticism was raised by someone hoping to use cathedral media coverage as a form of protest against construction procedures.