Church of Saint John the Baptist is one of the fortified churches of the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania. It was founded in 1603 by Jan Rudomin Dusicki and Jan Hajecki. The name of the architect is unknown. Construction took three years so in 1606 the church was opened and was active since then. In 1643 a hospital was founded by the church for the dwellers of the village and nearby area.
During the war against Russia the church was burnt down by the Russian army, but rebuilt soon afterwards. In the Great Northern War the church got under cannon fire from the Sweden army and was damaged again. During the reconstruction of the building cannonballs were planted inside the walls as a tribute to the tragic war events. In 1778 a chapel and a crypt were built by the southern side of the church.
The church was active even in Soviet times, which is a rare case as communists persecuted religion and closed or even ruined many churches around the country. In 2010-2011 the church underwent a planned repair.
The church is a beautiful example of the defensive Gothic architecture once popular in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Only a limited number of fortified churches survived until now so it has a great historical and architectural value. Later Renaissance elements were added.
The church was initially built in a symmetrical way with three naves supported by four columns. After the church was damaged for the first time, the columns were removed and the church became a single-nave. Dimensionally it is close to the square and has an apse and a sacristy. The facade is flanked by two cylindrical towers with rounded embrasures. Both towers are sixteen meters tall and five meters in diameter with the walls over two meters in thickness.
The outer side of the church is almost free from the decorative elements except for four niches on the upper frontside.
There is an old cross near the church. It was installed about 15th-16th century. The cross is two and a half meters high and was carved of a single granite stone.References:
The Church of Saint Demetrius, or Hagios Demetrios, is the main sanctuary dedicated to Saint Demetrius, the patron saint of Thessaloniki. It is part of the site Palaeochristian and Byzantine Monuments of Thessaloniki on the list of World Heritage Sites by UNESCO since 1988.
The first church on the spot was constructed in the early 4th century AD, replacing a Roman bath. A century later, a prefect named Leontios replaced the small oratory with a larger, three-aisled basilica. Repeatedly gutted by fires, the church eventually was reconstructed as a five-aisled basilica in 629–634. This was the surviving form of the church much as it is today. The most important shrine in the city, it was probably larger than the local cathedral. The historic location of the latter is now unknown.
The church had an unusual shrine called the ciborium, a hexagonal, roofed structure at one side of the nave. It was made of or covered with silver. The structure had doors and inside was a couch or bed. Unusually, it did not hold any physical relics of the saint. The ciborium seems to have been a symbolic tomb. It was rebuilt at least once.
The basilica is famous for six extant mosaic panels, dated to the period between the latest reconstruction and the inauguration of the Byzantine Iconoclasm in 730. These mosaics depict St. Demetrius with officials responsible for the restoration of the church (called the founders, ktetors) and with children. An inscription below one of the images glorifies heaven for saving the people of Thessalonica from a pagan Slavic raid in 615.
Thessaloniki became part of the Ottoman Empire in 1430. About 60 years later, during the reign of Bayezid II, the church was converted into a mosque, known as the Kasımiye Camii after the local Ottoman mayor, Cezeri Kasım Pasha. The symbolic tomb however was kept open for Christian veneration. Other magnificent mosaics, recorded as covering the church interior, were lost either during the four centuries when it functioned as a mosque (1493–1912) or in the Great Thessaloniki Fire of 1917 that destroyed much of the city. It also destroyed the roof and upper walls of the church. Black-and-white photographs and good watercolour versions give an idea of the early Byzantine craftsmanship lost during the fire.
Following the Great Fire of 1917, it took decades to restore the church. Tombstones from the city"s Jewish cemetery - destroyed by the Greek and Nazi German authorities - were used as building materials in these restoration efforts in the 1940s. Archeological excavations conducted in the 1930s and 1940s revealed interesting artifacts that may be seen in a museum situated inside the church"s crypt. The excavations also uncovered the ruins of a Roman bath, where St. Demetrius was said to have been held prisoner and executed. A Roman well was also discovered. Scholars believe this is where soldiers dropped the body of St. Demetrius after his execution. After restoration, the church was reconsecrated in 1949.