Walerian Protasewicz

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Walerian Protasewicz
Walerian Protasewicz 1.PNG
Coat of arms Drzewica
Born c. 1505
Shushkova near Lahojsk
Died 31 December 1579

Walerian Protasewicz (also: Protaszewicz-Szuszkowski, Lithuanian: Valerijonas Protasevičius; born around 1505, died 31 December 1579 in Vilnius) was bishop of Lutsk (1549–1555) and Vilnius (1555–1579). To combat Reformation he invited Jesuits to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. He funded the Jesuit college in Vilnius and obtained Papal and Royal privileges to convert the college into Vilnius University in 1579. The university soon became spiritual and cultural center of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.[1]

Early life[edit]

Protasewicz was born in a family of Ruthenian nobles (szlachta) in a small village of Shushkova[2] (Belarusian: Шушкова, Polish: Szuszkow) near Kraysk in a further Minsk Voivodeship (Grand Duchy of Lithuania).[3][4] It is unknown where he received his education or when he was ordained as a priest. He was friends with Stanislovas Kęsgaila, Elder of Samogitia.[2] Perhaps through this connection Protasewicz obtained a position at the chancellery of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. There he worked as a scribe, notary, secretary until 1549. From 1532 to 1544, he headed the chancellery of Queen Bona Sforza. With her support Protasewicz received benefice of Maišiagala in 1533.[2]

In 1533 Protasewicz was appointed by Kęsgaila as pastor of Kražiai.[2] Soon he was promoted by Mikalojus Viežgaila, Bishop of Samogitia, to canon of Varniai. He joined the Vilnius diocesan chapter first as a member (since 1537) and later as a dean (1547–1549).[3]


Protasewicz depicted in Jan Matejko's painting of the Union of Lublin (detail).

Protasewicz was appointed as bishop of Lutsk by Pope Paul III on 27 May 1549 and as bishop of Vilnius by Pope Paul IV on 10 April 1556.[5] At first he was more interested in political affairs, participating in Seimas and advising the Grand Duke.[6] Generally Protasewicz supported judicial independence of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and opposed a closer union between Poland and Lithuania.[1] In 1568 Protasewicz joined a commission preparing the third Statute of Lithuania and headed it until his death.[1] He was a leading member of the Lithuanian delegations sent to the Polish Sejm to negotiate the Union of Lublin.[6]

He was criticized for neglecting religious matters and allowing Reformation to spread.[7] Protasewicz soon began to combat Protestantism by calling two diocesan synods, disciplining priests, and improving the Cathedral School of Vilnius.[6] He constructed churches in Šešuoliai and Kiaukliai.[8] His most important contribution to Counter-Reformation was establishment of Vilnius Academy in 1570. He obtained privileges to convert the academy into a university in 1579. Protasewicz also laid the groundwork for the Vilnius Theological Seminary, established in 1582.[9]

In 1574, after death of Samogitian bishop Jurgis Petkūnas, Archbishop of Gniezno Jakub Uchański attempted to promote his nephew. Protasewicz protested such nepotism and instead managed to persuade the Pope to install Melchior Giedroyć.[10] At the same time he selected Paweł Holszański as his successor and appointed him as coadjutor bishop.[11]

Vilnius Academy[edit]

Already in 1553 Jesuits offered to establish a college in Vilnius, but Grand Duke Sigismund II Augustus delayed due to the Livonian War, opposition of some Protestant nobles, and difficulties in finding the right personnel.[12] With assistance from papal nuncio Giovanni Francesco Commendone and Bishop of Warmia Stanislaus Hosius, Protasewicz persuaded Sigismund to allow the school to be established.[13] The priests were afraid that Protestants might be first to establish an academy as such a Protestant school was contemplated by Mikołaj "the Red" Radziwiłł based on the last will of Mikołaj "the Black" Radziwiłł.[14] The Jesuits hoped that the new school would become their stronghold, preparing new generations of Catholic-educated activists for future religious work. The academy was intended to stop immigration of Lithuanian students to Protestant German universities, including newly established University of Königsberg.[15] Possibly there were also political motives: Lithuania needed a university as a counterpart to the Polish university in Kraków.[1][15]

Protasewicz was instrumental in providing financial support to the school. He bought, renovated, and expanded a palace for the academy and a dormitory for students.[16] He also gifted his own personal library to what became Vilnius University Library. The education was free;[1] thus the new academy needed an endowment to provide funding. To that end Protasewicz bequested several manors and villages near Varniai, Trakai, Maišiagala, Širvintos, Lida.[17] The first four Jesuit teachers arrived from Olomouc in 1569[18] and the first lessons took place in May 1570.[19] The official opening was celebrated on July 17, which was officially marked in honor of Protasewicz annually for about 200 years.[20] The new school year in October 1570 began with 122–160 students based on the classical curriculum of trivium and quadrivium.[21] The number of staff and students grew—by 1572 there were Jesuit staff from 15 different European countries and 200 students.[22] The academy was established with intentions to convert it into a university.[1] Protasewicz petitioned Pope Gregory XIII and Grand Duke Stephen Báthory to grant university privileges (i.e. the ability to confer universally accepted degrees) to the academy. Royal privilege was issued in July 1578 and approved by the Pope in October 1579.[1] The university was granted autonomy and exempted from taxes, but also prohibited from offering courses in medicine or law and thus competing with the Jagiellonian University in Kraków.[23]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Venclova (1981)
  2. ^ a b c d Petkus (2002), p. 296
  3. ^ a b Zinkus (1987), p. 456
  4. ^ Гудавичюс, Э. История Литвы / Э. Гудавичюс. — Т. 1 : с древнейших времен до 1569 года. — Москва : Фонд им. И. Д. Сытина; Baltrus, 2005. — p. 602.
  5. ^ Petkus (2002), pp. 296–297
  6. ^ a b c Krasauskas (1975), pp. 355–356
  7. ^ Petkus (2002), p. 297
  8. ^ Petkus (2002), p. 320
  9. ^ Petkus (2002), pp. 317–318
  10. ^ Petkus (2002), p. 323
  11. ^ Petkus (2002), p. 324
  12. ^ Rabikauskas (2002), pp. 11–12
  13. ^ Petkus (2002), p. 300
  14. ^ Gudavičius (1994), p. 32
  15. ^ a b Petkus (2002), p. 299
  16. ^ Petkus (2002), p. 309
  17. ^ Petkus (2002), p. 310
  18. ^ Petkus (2002), p. 303
  19. ^ Petkus (2002), p. 307
  20. ^ Rabikauskas (1981)
  21. ^ Gudavičius (1994), p. 33
  22. ^ Petkus (2002), p. 315
  23. ^ Gudavičius (1994), p. 38
  • Wileński słownik biograficzny, Bydgoszcz 2002, ISBN 83-87865-28-1
  • Krzysztof Rafał Prokop, Sylwetki biskupów łuckich, Biały Dunajec – Ostróg 2001, ISBN 83-911918-7-7
  • Гудавичюс, Э. История Литвы / Э. Гудавичюс. — Т. 1 : с древнейших времен до 1569 года. — Москва : Фонд им. И. Д. Сытина; Baltrus, 2005. — 680 с.

External links[edit]

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Jerzy Chwalczewski
Bishop of Łuck
Succeeded by
Jan Andruszewicz
Preceded by
Paweł Holszański
Bishop of Wilno
Succeeded by
Jerzy Radziwiłł