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Alsunga (Alšvanga)

Special days of the parish:

1) March 25 – Feast of the Annunciation;
2) All Saints Feast of the Sacrament;
3) July 16 – Feast of the Scapular of Our Lady;
4) September 29 – Day of St. Michael;
5) the first Sunday of October – Rosary festival;
6) January 1 – New Year’s Day.

The following text is largely based on parts of the book History of the Catholic Church in Latvia, Church history in Courland in the 19th and 20th centuries written by Cardinal J. Vaivods in 1946 and the notes of Pēteris Upenieks under title: Past of Alsunga Speaks.

According to the report of the Dean of Courland and the priest of Alšvanga, Canonic de Grozmani, to the Archbishop of Mogilev, Siestrzencevich, in 1816, the members of the parish of Alšvanga are closely locked within the boundaries of their parish and avoid every unnecessary meeting with Lutherans who live outside the parish. They are very conservative and do not give in to the new trends coming from the outside. Even in terms of clothing, the people of Alšvanga remain faithful to their national costume throughout the 19th century, and women were still wearing it for the most part, both on working days and on holidays even after the World War II.

For centuries, the surrounding Lutherans have called the residents of Alšvanga (together with the residents of Jūrkalne, Gudenieki and Basi) as Suiti, and this word is still used today to refer to the mentioned inhabitants, as their inhabited area is also called the Land of the Suiti. Where this name comes from or how it came about, researchers have different opinions. Some want to atribute it to the word Jesuit. However, it seems to be most correct to explain it with the Polish word świta – attendants of the great lord, and it originated in the times of Count Johann Ulrich von Schwerin, who, when he moved from Warsaw to Alšvanga with his Polish wife, also brought a whole staff of various servants.

They wore special clothes and looked completely different from the local population. It is understandable that these Polish costumes were different from the folk costumes of the Alšvanga people, but since Schwerin also kept the local peasants in strict Catholicism and separated them from the people of other nobles, the local inhabitants were also equated to Schwerin’s entourage by the surrounding Lutherans. Today, the Suiti are proud to admit that they are Suiti, but in the old days there were whole fights about it on the roads and in roadside pubs. It was enough for a Lutheran to call out: Suiti in line, so that the buttons can be counted, as the present Suiti were already looking for clubs to defend their honor against their detractors, because they usually saw their Catholic faith being insulted here.

These hundreds of years of contempt of the Catholics from the Lutherans had turned the Suits towards defiance of everything Lutheran, and in spite of the Lutherans. In order to show their intransigence to the latter, the Suits have tenaciously held on to their national dress, which their Lutheran neighbors had long discarded and today have completely forgotten. The Land of the Suiti is a small Catholic enclave in the Lutheran Courland, and it has remained as such even today, although changing historic conditions have already partly destroyed its moral walls, with which the Suiti had separated themselves from the surrounding Lutheran parishes until the end of the 19th century.

But even today, the Suiti are reluctant to marry people from other regions, especially other faiths and mixed marriages are much rarer there than in other smaller Catholic parishes of Courland. In the old days, for a suitor to marry a Lutheran or for a suitor to go out to a Lutheran was tantamount to ostracizing himself from his own people, and a suitor who betrayed his faith was viewed with the same condemnation as orthodox Jews look at proselytes (a Jew who converted to the Christian faith). Due only to such a attitudes, the Suits have preserved their faith throughout the centuries and are still today among the most diligent churchgoers in all of Courland.

The position of the Suits in matters of faith has also strongly influenced their economic and social status. The poor and often landless Suits did not go out to a foreign parish to look for work and bread by working for the Lutherans, so they willingly accepted the favor of the state, which manifested itself in the allocation of some small plots in peatlands, in forest, sand or swamp, where – as the Suits used to say – it was impossible to live, but you couldn’t die of hunger either. This is how the large number of so-called hut-keepers (small plot owners), who make up entire colonies of poor people, arose.

The fact that in Courland for a long time it was forbidden by law to divide land plots among family members, created a large number of landless persons and increased the number of squatters, but at the same time also the number of dissatisfied residents. This explains the phenomenon that revolutionaries have had a lot of support in the Suiti community during all times of unrest and even some leaders of revolutionary movements have come from there. Many of these revolutionaries were later forced to emigrate and, living in a foreign land, moved away from the faith. After returning to their native homestead, they often showed their protest against the existing establishment with a hostile attitude towards the church and faith, and in that spirit they tried to educate their younger family members. This explains the regrettable phenomenon in the 20th century, that even in the Land of the Suiti, a small number of non-practicing Catholics appeared, and among them certain opponents of the faith. Overall, however, there are few of them, because the majority of the atheists of the suits behave differently towards the church and faith at different times.

For some of them, the personality of the parish priest plays a decisive role. If the pastor is attractive, then a favorable attitude towards the church arises. And this benevolence sometimes turns into real service to the church and congregation, as I myself can attest from the times (1933 – 1936) when I led the parish of Alšvanga as a priest.

The oldest church books in Alšvanga have been preserved from 1690. In 1691, 155 children were baptized. The number varies greatly from year to year, apparently as a result of the long and devastating Northern War (1700-1721) and plague epidemics. So in 1701, only 70 children were baptized. In 1705 – 193 children, in 1712 – 32 children, in 1720 – 56, in 1730 – 17, in 1750 – 134, in 1758 – 221. Then onwards the number of baptized children becomes more stable and stays within the range of 150-200.

At the beginning of the 19th century, as well as in later times, the parish of Alšvanga was the largest Catholic center in the entire Lower Courland. It included the entire current Gudenieki parish and Jūrkalne, which was a branch of the Alšvanga parish. In the first quarter of the century, the priest of Alšvanga, Canonic de Grozmani, is also the Dean of the whole Courland. About the numerical status of parishioners in the 19th century. At the beginning, let’s take the year 1816 as a starting point, when due to the ordinance of the Vilnius Consistory and the announcement of the Dean of Courland dated October 28, 1816 no. 211, all pastors of the Deanery had to submit statistical information about their parishes. Pastor Pavil Dauginovich, the Administrator (dean assistant) of the Alšvanga church, provides the following information about the Alšvanga parish: the total number of parishioners is 4,180, of which 2,672 (1,273 men and 1,399 women) come to the communion table. This year, 36 couples were married, 176 baptized, 46 died.

In the middle of the 19th century, the number of parishioners has already grown significantly, presumably through natural growth. According to the 1853 report to the Consistory, the general number of parishioners is 7,516 souls. In this year, 267 were born, 55 couples married, 146 died. It is strange that there are 3915 who go to communion, but there are 3631 who do not go, together with minors. It seems that at that time there were quite a lot of non-practicing Catholics.

In the next quarter of a century, the number of parishioners did not show any noticeable increase. Either the difficult living conditions or epidemic diseases are the cause of the lack of growth. According to the priest’s report to the Consistory in 1875, there were 7,416 souls in the parish of Alšvanga together with Jūrkalne. 224 were born, 46 couples married and 98 persons died.

In the 1892 Dean’s report to the Telši Consistory, the total number of members including the Jūrkalne parish is set at 9,130 (4,228 men and 4,902 women); 225 born, 42 couples married, 95 persons deceased.

In the 20th century, a new congregation – Gudenieki – separates from the Alšvanga parish with a temporary church and a permanent pastor, as a result of which the number of Alšvanga parish members decreases significantly. Therefore, in 1924, according to the status animarum book, the total number of members of the Alshwang parish is only 3534, but these are people who have been visited and registered as conscientious Catholics. At this time, there was already a small number of houses in Alšvanga whose inhabitants were considered apostates (non-religious) from the Church, but their number is unknown as unregistered.

This is what the largest Catholic congregation in Courland looks like, which diligently visits its white Alšvanga church, which has turned gray over hundreds of years, around which the whole spiritual life and education has been formed.

The parish of Alšvanga has belonged to the Diocese of Pilten from its very beginning. The last Bishop of Courland and Osel, Johan Munchausen, sold his rights to the Danish king in 1560, went to Germany and got married. Only after 1582, when Riga was occupied by Polish king Stefan Bathory, he made every effort to restore the Catholic Church by establishing a bishopric in Cēsis and inviting Jesuits to Riga and Liefland. In 1585, under the care of Ertmans Tolgsdorf, the Catechism of Kenizius was published, which was the first book published in the Latvian language.

After the Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus occupied Riga in 1621, all the Catholic priests and also the Catholics of Liefland (Livonia) had to leave, so the Bishop of Livonia, Otto Schenking, moved to Poland. Later, Livonian bishops operated from Vilnius. Livonia bishopric was formally dissolved in 1798, Latgalia was added to the diocese of Mohilev, whereas Courland and Semigallia to the diocese of Vilnius. From 1848 to 1918, Courland was subordinated to the Samogitia bishopric located in Telši.

In 1715, according to the report of Krzysztof Antoni Szembek, Bishop of Pilten, to Pope Clement XI about the state of the diocese, there was not a single Catholic church in Swedish Livonia (Liefland and Estland). Only two churches operated in Courland: in Alšvanga and Kuldīga. Both in a state of disrepair. There had been 20,000 Catholics in Alšvanga, but after the wars and the plague, only 2,000 remained. They themselves were forced to go to Lutheran clergy for baptisms and marriages, because there were no priests of their own. Now it is said to have been fixed and the restoration of the church had started. This year there is a stone church in Alšvanga, almost without a roof and badly damaged. Repair is necessary from the very foundations. It has been launched a year ago. Some funds have been sent, among them 100 Hungarian gold thalers, given to the church of Alšvanga by the Papal Nuncio. The owner of Alšvanga, Schwerin, had lost everything during the war, the estates have passed into the hands of foreigners (non-Catholics), as he was unable to help either himself or the church.

At that time Catholics were served from Alšvanga throughout the vast Pilten district. Services were held every third Sunday in the Jūrkalne branch church. In Jelgava, due to church repairs, services were held in a private house and there were only 300 people in the congregation. There were also churches this year in Laucesa, Ilūkste and Šēnberga (Skaistkalne) with a branch in Ozolmuiža. The Catholic chapel in Liepāja was demolished. Liepāja was serviced by the priest of Kuldīga.

It is noted in the registers of 1774, that a monumental fence was built around the church graveyard in this year. In the registers of 1784, it was read that a promiscuous boy of the sacristan burned down the dean’s outbuildings and stables one Sunday during the service. All livestock and birds were killed. At that time, the dean could not receive help from the parishioners, because they served in the manors, so the help was provided by the then owner of Alšvanga, Duke Peter Biron. In the registers we can read that with the help of Casimir Friedrich Otein and ex singulari gratia Celsissimi Ducis Nostri PETRI, new stables are being built.

The year 1786 is a year of memorable events. In this year, the Felixberg (Jūrkalne) church was built, made of stone, with funding coming from Peter Biron, Duke of Courland. On August 27, 1786, the parish priest of Alšvanga and the Canonic of Livonia, Karl Antoni Buzhinski, consecrated it in honor of St. Peter. It was the old church on the seashore, because the current church was built at the parish’s expense in 1862 and was consecrated by Reverend J. Proņevich in honor of St. Joseph. In 1788 Peter Biron funded construction of a new parish house.

After the completed repairs in 1746, the Alšvanga church existed in its original form until 1882, when it was thoroughly rebuilt during the time of priest Joseph Pronevich and under the leadership of his vicar Milevski. Cross aisles were added on each side, and with this the width of the church reached its current length. With this reconstruction, the church took the shape of a cross and the internal volume almost doubled. The simple lower part of the tower created an antechamber with a narrow and low entrance door. The roof of the church was covered with shingles and with tiles on top. The current tiled floor was laid in 1898. The ceiling of the church made of unplaned boards formed a flat vault. A small dressing room on the Gospel side was now much more spacious than the old one, which had been converted into a storeroom for church supplies.

There were three altars in the church. Until 1929, the high altar housed a painting of St. Archangel Michael, who is the patron saint of the church. On September 29 of that year, the Holy Sacrament was installed in the high altar. On the right side altar – a picture of the Rosary of the Virgin Mary and on the left – a picture of the crucified savior. The two side altars were built immediately after the church was expanded.

There were few pews in the ancient church. They were built like pens and were meant only for singers and old people. In 1932, with funds from the Catholic Union, 40 long benches were made simple, with backrests and consoles, so that now a large part of the parishioners can sit. It should also be noted that in 1929, the statues of Virgin Mary and St. Joseph were placed at sides of the main altar.

In July 1850, Matias Kazimir, Bishop of Samogitia, during his visit to Alšvanga, found the church in a rather run-down state and, noted that there was no organ, so he ordered to buy an organ and hire an organist. The organ was purchased, but it was small compared to the current church, although it was rebuilt once in 1903 and repaired in 1933.

Until 1914, there were four bells of different sizes in the church tower. The fourth was purchased in 1901. In 1915, due to war and by order of the Russian government, all bells were evacuated to Moscow. On June 25, 1923, the two largest bells were returned to the tower.

Around the church garden (cemetery) is a stone wall covered with tiles. The paramentics (liturgical vestments) of the Alšvanga church have been provided from year to year and therefore have accumulated in a large quantity. Some liturgical vessels are made of pure silver.

In the summer of 1935, the Alshwang church underwent a capital repair. In the church, in the vestibule and under the choirs, new clapboard ceilings had been installed and painted with white oil paint. All round the walls and choirs were paneled five feet high in clapboards and painted with a light yellow oil paint. Instead of the old stairs from the antechamber of the church, wooden and iron ring stairs from the interior of the church were installed to the choir. The main entrance to the church was expanded and modern glass doors were made. The interior of the great tabernacle was lined with silver-plated copper, and the doors were covered from the outside with a gilded metal cover. Inside and outside the church was painted white. New and repaired windows installed.

In 1930, a marble plaque was installed to commemorate 700-year anniversary of introduction of Christianity in Courland. In 1933, a similar marble slab was attached to the church as a monument to the members of the Alšvanga parish, who fell in the Latvian liberation wars.

In 1927, with the funds of the members of the Brotherhood of the Living Rosary, an iron grid door was made, which still today separates the church from the vestibule and can be closed on a day when the front door is open, so that passers-by could enter the vestibule and pay their respects to the Most Holy.

From all that has been said, it can be seen that the people of Alšvanga do not spare funds and efforts for the needs of their church and do everything possible to decorate it neatly and pleasantly. If we also take into account the large number of outbuildings near the church and their maintenance, to which a lot of effort has been put in recent decades, then we have to admit that the large congregation of Alšvanga has also done a lot of work to create and maintain its spiritual center. The pastor’s farm can be called, as is common in Courland, the pastor’s manor with full rights, because the rectory after the last reconstruction in 1935-1936 has about 20 rooms and also has an impressive appearance from the outside. It changed hands only in 1940, as it was taken over by the Alšvanga MTS (soviet state owned machine and tractor) station, and the new owners began to transform it inside as they saw fit, but did not finish, so the lower floor remained almost unusable. In May 1945, the presbytery was again taken over for the needs of the mentioned station, and it should be assumed that the unfinished works there will be continued.

Changes also took place in other buildings, which have been nationalized together with the church land and are at the disposal of the new owners. The priest of the Alšvanga parish has been transformed from a great priest into a simple housekeeper, because he was left with only a few hectares of land and an apartment was assigned to the former sacristan’s house. Therefore, he is only a priest, but the former Lord of the Suits, as it is now customary to say, has been razkulačen (freed of his property by the soviet state).

Since ancient times, people from Alšvanga have been accustomed to call their pastors Kungs (Lords). I have to go to the Lord, says the Suit, going up to the priest’s house. And this word of the Lord, in their understanding, is suitable only for the pastor. The other officials, such as estate managers, surveyors, scribes and other intelligent workers, were not Lords of the Alšvanga people, they were called Germans, or kungāks. The habit of calling the pastor simply Lord (Kungs) probably comes from the Lithuanian word kunigas – pastor, but it is so rooted in the Suits that the pastors themselves use it. So, for example, back in 1933, when I took over the parish of Alšvanga, among other junk, I bought a grain measure previously owned by one of my predecessors, on which the words were burned: Siemionovichs – Lord of the Suits. However, this name in the local language was suitable only for the pastor. At best, the vicar was called the small Lord.

In recent times, the people of Alšvanga often had to hear the surprise of the civil servants with whom the conversation about the pastor came about, because every such stranger immediately asked: what kind of Lord? or to a Lord? and the Suit asked himself, with even greater astonishment, what kind of limited man this is, that he does not know what to call a Lord. It took each other for fools only because each had a different understanding of the meaning of the word.

Over the centuries, both Jesuits, Carmelites, Franciscans and Dominicans have worked in Alšvanga. The oldest known pastor is Wilhelm Johann Funk, who signed the first metric book, which is mentioned from 1690 to 1702. Some books were also signed by Josiph Giedvil in 1695.

It seems that in 1702, there was no longer a priest in Alšvanga, because the children were baptized by the priest of Kuldīga, Johan Zhuk, and later also by a certain Bartolomei Sviencicki (Frater Minorita). In 1703, two priests appeared: an indecipherable Dominican – Ordinis Praedicatorum ex Provincia Lytuania and Francisk Shliachatovich. Since 1703, there has been no priest because children were baptized by Cantor Pietrellevicius.

At the end of March 1704 there was an interesting entry: Ano Dni 1704. die Incepimus Baptismum in Ecclesia 6. Alszwanensiego Frater Dauid Woycieghowski 7. cum Fre Thoma Stawarski Ord. Carmelitarum J. Antizuis Regularis Observantia die 19 na Martij. They operated until May 1709, when Commendarius Johan Zhuk signed again.

In October 1709, priest Johan Zhytkovski signed for a short time, but in 1710, the priest is no longer there. Children are baptized by Cantor Mathias Petrellevicius. Starting from 1711, the Adm. Rev. Pater Stephang Thusnowski was registered in the books, huius loci Missionarius. After him, the already mentioned Cantor Mathias Petrellevicius baptized the children again for a longer time. In 1714, Antoni Richtsteig Comdng huius loci already signs. His name appears until the year 1717, after which the priest of Alšvanga signs as Antoni Richtsteig until 1724.

From July 1724, Michael Tadei Langhanning signed as the 11th priest in Alšvanga. In 1726 as Commendarius and Missionarius, and from 1727 to 1755 as a priest. In these years, more peaceful times have come to Alšvanga and the number of baptized children is gradually increasing. In 1739, the Vicar General of the Bishop of Livonia, Joseph Gonner, visited the church of Alšvanga, and on August 8, 1749, it was visited by Bishop Joseph Puzyna. In 1756, Bishop Antoni Tishkevich visited Alšvanga.

In 1756, vicar Georg Kossevich arrived in Alšvanga. He graduated from Braunsberg Theological Seminary and was later chaplain of the Bishop of Livonia. He worked in Alšvanga until 1761. Starting from 1760, the signatures of Karl Antoni Buzhinski appear. At first he is the parish priest of Kuldīga. From 1761 as Commendarius of Alšvanga (Commendarius is a medieval term most associated with abbeys, it means a duty entrusted for a time). In the same year, he already begins to sign as a parish priest of Alšvanga and Canonic of Livonia. In 1749, Karl Antoni Buzhinski studied at Braunsberg theological seminary. Braunsberg was in Prussia, beyond Königsberg. There was a higher educational institution for the preparation of priests founded by the Papal Nuncio. This seminary or university was run by the Jesuit fathers. Latvian language was also taught there and several tens of priests were trained for the needs of the current territory of Latvia. Karl Antoni Buzhinski worked in Alšvanga until 1799. It is thought that he also died in Alšvanga and was buried in the cemetery near the church. Elderly people say that the graves of churchmen are in the cemetery part on the right when entering from the big gate.

At the beginning of the 19th century, the Franciscan Fortunat Acieshko was the priest in the parish of Alšvanga, appointed to this position in 1798. He is assisted by an older priest – mansionarius Johan Kobzinski. In 1800, Bishop Johan Kossakowski visits Alšvanga. In the same year, priest Albins Zabitovski also arrived here, and for a while there were three priests in the parish. In 1808, Bishop Hieronim Trojanovski visited Alšvanga.

Beginning in 1814, Canonic Joseph de Grozmani, the Infulate of Minsk, started working in Alšvanga. On May 20, 1827, with article no. 1225 of Vilnius Administrator General Official Vincent Mikucki reports that Canon de Grozmani has given up his duties as a dean and priest of Līvbērze Joseph Bohdanovich has been appointed as a dean in his place. However, de Grozmani’s refusal was prompted by his promotion, because in July 1827, based on the letter of the Secretary of the Vilnius Consistory, Kishko Zgierska, reported to the clergy of the Courland deanery that Canonic Joseph de Grozmani was appointed assessor of the Vilnius Consistory.

After de Grozmani, from 1830 to 1844, Joseph Wichert, a German (but spoke Latvian well), served as the parish priest of Alšvanga, and after him, Landsbergs, a priest from the noble family, later the dean of Courland in Kuldīga.

In 1844, the former vicar of this church, Georg Barcevich, was appointed to the post of parish priest in Alšvanga, who had undeniable merits in the parish. He had built several farm buildings and done a lot to raise the spiritual level of the congregation. Barcevich had left the monkhood against his own will – due to the closure of the monastery, but even after secularization he practiced traditions of his order. It must be assumed that from his time through the century, the singing of the Rosary sounded wonderfully in the church of Alšvanga. According to the Dominican custom, he also introduced the Rosary festival and New Year’s processions and singing of the Gospel in Alšvanga (five gospels). It is also his merit that local residents got used to confession four times a year and to prayers and songs on Sunday evenings in their homes.

However, the active priest Barcevich also faced many criticisms in later years. Already in the minutes of the Bishop’s visitation in 1850, it was noted that the sacristy and liturgical vessels were dirty, the sacristian is deaf, so a new one must be hired. There was no school near the church – it must be established. The priest kept many hunting dogs and devoted a lot of time to hunting. Also, the register books had not been properly written down and the parish generally has not yet been visited. A few years later, based on the complaints of parishioners, priest Barcevich was made to sit in Vorni for a 12-day retreat and after returning to Alšvanga, he gave up his priest duties.

However, the Bishop instructed the Dean to go out and find out on the spot how well the complaints are justified. The Dean arrived in Alshvanga on February 10, 1853 and finds that all the complaints were instigated by the vicar Sorochinski, who himself wanted to become a priest and also promised mountains of gold to the other vicar – Tomashevski, if he gets the position. The complaint about the demolition of the buildings is only partially justified, because they were received from priest Wilhert in a bad condition and a lot of things have already been repaired. The organ was also purchased in Liepāja for 300 rubles.

The accusations about the priest’s mistress – a Lutheran widow, who was being taken by the coachman with the priest’s horses to the Ēdole Lutheran Church on Sundays – were not found to be important, and the Ddean asked the Bishop to leave Barcevich in the post of priest, promising to better monitor the priest’s progress in the future. This complaint had cost the two delegates to Telši, the farm owners Kunduris and Rijvagars, whom Soročinski sent to the bishop, dearly. For illegally crossing the border and for speaking out and inciting others against their priest in a pub, the parish court orders them to be flogged and put in prison. Vicar Sorochinski is also forced to confess to the Dean that he hates his priest because he is a monk (Dominican). However, it is noted in the acts that the priest is not guilty of punishing the mentioned farmers. The court acted on its own, recognizing the guilt of the farmers against their priest. That offending the priest’s authority in Alšvanga was not such a simple matter, there are many different stories similar to the one already mentioned in the parish.

The so-called old Prop – Joseph Pronevich, who performed duties of the parish priest from 1856 to 1888, has been most deeply imprinted in the memory of the older generation. The church in his time was packed on Sundays. He impersonated a true Lord of the Suits. Parish priest Pronevich had gained great authority, popularity and enjoyed genuine respect. His majestic height, self-respecting, measured demeanor, extensive acquaintance with government officials, his powerful, hollow voice and clever pronunciation put this priest in the eyes of the people at an unimaginable height. Prop was not a mere mortal to the people of Alšvanga, he was a supernatural messenger from heaven, who was therefore treated with all reverence. His teachings have been like mighty thunders. Old Alšvanga residents said that if the Prop appeared in the dressing room and tapped with his stick, then all the worshipers in the church moved and each tried to take a pose that would not be blamed in any way. The women immediately moved from a sitting position to kneeling, while the men gave each other tobacco horns to drive away the intrusive sleep by inhaling tobacco into their nostrils. During the time of Joseph Pronevich, piligrimages to Jūrkalne were started on St. Joseph’s Day (August 15).

In 1872, Leopold Urbanovich came to Alšvanga as a vicar, and in 1876, Aleksander Milevski. Both were sent as exiles due to the Polish riots and, as they had worked in Alšvanga for a long time, are still well remembered by the old residents of Alšvanga. People have a lot to tell about Milevski, whom they nicknamed the little Mileško. He was almost the only priest of Alšvanga of that time, who successfully urged the young Suits to seek further education and study to become priests. From this, though, only one became a priest – Pēteris Silovičs. Others chose more secular occupations.

Milevski was very active in construction. Under his leadership, the expansion of the Alšvanga church was underway. He also built a second floor for the Alšvanga school and expanded the Gudenieki school, next to which he built rooms for a temporary church. At one time, he also built a church in Bauska. In the end, Milevski himself also moved to Gudenieki in an apartment near the school and appointed a former soldier of the Emperor’s guard, Miķelis Cīrulis, as a teacher there. The appointed teacher later angrily denounced his benefactor to the government, and Milewski was exiled to Siberia, where he served as a vicar in Tomsk. It has been believed, that the some bandits killed him there during the service. This is how this priest died through his dedication, who especially loved school work and even taught the subjects in the Alšvanga school that the primitive teacher did not know and therefore did not teach them to the students.

The parish priest Pronevich had hoped to live in Alšvanga until his death, so that he would be buried there. That’s what the members of the congregation thought too, who were convinced that their priesty had been married to the Alšvanga church. Worn out by age, leaning on a stick, he could no longer completely trace all the places neither in the church nor in the congregation. That is why there were different disturbances, so in the end the bishop was forced to send a new dean to Alšvanga, but Proņevič was transferred to Joniškis in Lithuania. Saying goodbye to the people of Alšvanga, Pronevich told the parishioners that he himself will be far away, but his spirit will be in Alšvanga. After moving to the new place, he soon died. In Alšvanga, Pronevich had remained in good memory, except perhaps for the small hut owners of Ozolmuiža, whose pastures were given to the church during Pronevich’s time, for which a real fight had taken place.

In 1888, Anton Švatelis, a priest full of strength and energy from Līvbērze, who had studied at the Kaunas seminary, came to Alšvanga. He has been a good farmer and landlord. Švatelis plowed and cultivated pastures, cultivated fields, grafted apple trees of the entire large orchard. He had also been tireless in church work, installed the organ, which, although ordered during the previous parish priest, had not been installed until now. He invited a young and capable Šteinbrik, to be organist and a teacher.

Priest Švatelis is said to have stopped burying the dead in the church cemetery and consecrated the new Lapu cemetery. In the days of prayer before the feast of the Ascension of Jesus, he held processions to this cemetery, during which, as people walked they sang the Litany of All Saints.

The priest was alone without a vicar, and still served the vast Alšvanga and Gudenieki parishes. During the time of Švatelis, under the leadership of teacher Šteinbrik, the church choir was so strong and good that even the baron of Reģi Manor had invited it to sing at his son’s funeral.

At first, the parishioners were not enthusiastic about singing in Latin in the church, and they even found it offensive. When they sang Kyrie eleyson, the people of Alšvanga thought that they were shouting ķeri Liezonu – the name of one of the singers. The teacher’s conducting with a stick in his hand was also seen as funny, because he looked like a shepherd with a stick, standing in front of the singers, waving at them like sheep so they wouldn’t jump over the wooden balustrade.

Priest Švatelis had managed to achieve all this in two years. The Tsar’s government did not like his activity and demanded that he be transferred to a smaller congregation. He was then transferred to Dunava in Zemgale, where, working just as enthusiastically, he built the present beautiful church of Dunava. Švatelis shined like a star on the horizon of their congregation in the eyes of the people of Alšvanga. They could not forgive his quick dismissal and therefore were not happy to see his successor.

In 1890, Augustīns Lukša was appointed as a parish priest in Alšvanga. He was a good preacher, a resourceful and active host, a popular confessor, but he was generally not loved in the congregation just because he could use the fruits of Šhvatelis work. He later moved to Skaistkalne, where he won the undivided approval of the people of Skaistkalne. Lukša published an extensive Catechism and a revised the Great Book of Songs and Prayers. However, it was not implemented in Alšvanga, because the songs did not agree with the songs of the old book. He also later built a church in Jaunjelgava.

In 1894, Jāzeps Simovičs from Dviete came to Alšvanga as a parish priest. Accustomed to the Upper Zemgalians, he could not understand the closed Alsvang people and, although he remained in the post of the priest for three years, he was unable to settle here. Therefore, he had completely disappeared from the memory of the Alšvanga residents. However, he had a dedicated vicar in Alšvanga – Eduards Semenovičs, who called himself a big guy: The priest is the boss, I’m just the big guy, he used to say. The people called him the new Lord, but in fact he was running the parish, leaving only the honor of the boss to the priest. Semenovičs was the real Lord of the Suits and as such was very popular with all the parishioners. Vicar Semenovich managed things so resourcefully that even the priest himself is later pushed out of Alshwang, like the hedgehog in a fairy tale pulled out a snake from its cave. In the end, Simovićs agreed to leave Alšvanga.

In 1897, Eduards Semenovičs, who had studied at the Kaunas Theological Seminary, was actually appointed as the parish priest of Alšvanga. He also manageds to take out the other vicar – Jūlijs Narķevičs. Now the young and full of strength priest, who was able to bend horseshoes with his hands, just like the former priest Pronevich in his early days, felt like a fish in water among the people of Alšvanga. Semenovičs remained in the position of priest for nine years and also performed tasks suitable to his strength. He built new stone stables. The huge building was built by the parishioners and the dean was the first among the stone breakers. He also managed the construction works and under his strict supervision the work was progressing well. Also, a new sacristian’s house was being built, barns and the old cooperative building were rebuilt. Semenovičs also planned to build a new church and might even have done so if the riots of 1905 had not disrupted these plans. The leader of the punitive expedition, the cruel Baron Brädlich of Saka, had five revolutionaries shot near the Alschwang castle. The Jūrkalne residents, who were involved in the revolution, hid in forests. Brädlich gave his word of honor that nothing would be done to the culprits, as long as they came out of the forest. People obeyed because the priest had conveyed the message. But Bredlich did not keep his word. People’s frustration was directed against Jūrkalne priest Jūlijs Linde and also against Alšvanga priest Semenovičs. So they both left the Suits. Semenovičs to Lithuania, and Linde to Līvbērze.

He was equally determined and energetic in church work and in rooting out moral weeds. Being a non-drinker himself, he strictly combated drinking and smoking. He personally pushed the drunken into the pigsty to sleep off their drunkenness and, if he found it necessary, also flogged them, but the pipers who dared to smoke to the idols near the church had their pipes broken at their feet. His authority was so great that no one could think of anything but repentance for their sin. After Semenovičs, you didn’t see drunkards near the church for many years. Even the seven Lutheran boys from Ēdole, who had stood in his way while he was traveling on business, he allegedly knocked one after another into the snow and hit them a couple of times with his leather whip, and after instructing them on how to treat the Lord of the Suiti, calmly drove away, but the chastened had thoughtfully gone home. In 1935, an Alšvanga resident showed me his crippled finger as a memory from Semenovičs. The farmer was about to drag the huge log into the barn during its construction, but forgot a pipe in his mouth. Semenovič’s stick hit and the words rang out: Don’t you know when you can smoke and when you can’t? Since then, the unlucky piper’s finger had remained crooked and motionless.

The great Prop, as Alšvanga residents called him, seems to be the last generation of those pastors who fatherly disciplined their spiritual children with the help of some hard or limp object. Semenovich once reprimanded even a very wealthy farmer with his leather whip, who came to him and frankly said that he wanted to complain about him to the bishop. Semenovičs hit him for this so much, that the open-hearted farmer even forgot his hat in the presbytery and also forgot his intention to complain.

It was even worse for a drunkard who, on a dark autumn evening, was caught by the priest on the street, fighting with another local. The last one ran away, but the first the priest threw into a ditch so forcefully that it lay completely motionless for a while. Later, when he regained consciousness, he began to wonder, what could have given him such a strong blow. The conclusion was as follows: one of the two – Ābis (some strong Adam) or the great Prop.

As regards vicars, Semenovičs also had some notable men in one way or another. In 1897, Julijs Paļukas, a great Lithuanian patriot, a witty humorist and a good hunter, worked as a vicar in Alšvanga. In 1899, the vicar was Jānis Jakuška, who unfortunately was a big fan of intoxicating drinks. In 1900, vicar Miķelis Kazakaitis – a notable singer, choir leader and good teacher. He was followed in 1901 by Staņislavs Bullo, a strong man worthy of the priest, who gave beautiful but too short lessons. In 1902, there were already two vicars: the pious and good preacher Francisks Vitķevičs and the Lithuanian poet Jāzeps Šnapstis (pseudonym – Margalis). This last one supposedly cut down the historic linden tree near the Ķiņķi farm, under which in 1634 the Lutheran priest Lysanders, expelled from Alšvanga, had given his last lesson and predicted the end of Catholic religion in Alšvanga at the same time as the end of linden tree itself. As you can see, he was still a bad prophet, because Catholicism in Alšvanga not only existed after the linden tree, but also strengthened and flourished. According to Pēteris Upenieks, the initiator and organizer of the linden felling was Jūrkalne priest Jūlijs Linde.

In 1904, some very educated men were sent to Alšvanga as vicars: A. Jozefovičs and the well-known later professor of theology faculty in Riga – Pāvils Ozoliņš. In 1905, Konstantīns Jadviršis worked in Alšvanga.

In 1900, Pēteris Silovičs, born in 1873 in a poor Suiti forest hut, was ordained as a priest. With the help of priest Milevskis, he completed the teachers’ seminary in Kuldīga and then worked as a teacher in the Riga Catholic school. Supported by well-wishers, he entered the St. Petersburg Theological Seminary and graduated there in 1900. Priest Silovičs worked in Riga, , Bolderāja, Siberia, again in Riga’s St. Albert Church. He died in 1933 and was buried in St. Michael’s cemetery. Priest Pēteris Silovičs supplied Latvian Catholics with several valuable books. He published the prayer book Crown of Roses in two editions, The Month of May in two editions, Gospels for Sundays and Holidays, Testament Stories and Catechism, Church history in two editions as well as various apologetic questions: Is there a God? etc.and other books.

In 1906, Jāzeps Jasinskis, who studied at the Kaunas Theological Seminary, arrived to Alšvanga as a parish priest. A good farmer and hunter, who was mainly engaged in farming and, as he himself once told me, he enjoyed going to the field barefoot in the early morning to tie up the horses. He did not gain sympathy in the church because he preached poorly. Two new vicars work in Alšvanga this year: the already mentioned P. Ozoliņš and later the long-time chancellor of the Riga Curia, Eduards Stuķels.

In 1907, the vicar was Romualds Šiļunas, in 1909, Dedello, whom the people called the little Diedel, because he was owner of a small stature but a big voice. In 1913, P. Remjazas, named Remes (the name of a farm in the parish), was the vicar in Alšvanga. He was perhaps the only priest who did not learn Latvian, so he did not preach. In 1916, priest Jānis Šleinis arrived – a good speaker, and for a while he was joined by the same celebrity in eloquence – Jānis Auders. In 1918, Mārtiņš Kaļķis, later priest of Līvbērze and of Jelgava, worked here as a vicar.

Around this time Vincents Strelēvičs was consecrated as a priest, born in 1888 in Alšvanga (now Gudenieki parish) Kaibuti farm. After graduating from the Kuldīga classical gymnasium, he entered St. Petersburg Theological seminary and graduated there with honors in 1914. He was then a candidate for higher studies abroad, but his studies were interrupted by the war. Strelēvičs later worked as a vicar in Līksna, Riga, as a priest in Rubeņi, Bebrene, Skaistkalne and Aglona, as a notary of the Curia in Riga and as Econom of the Riga Theological Seminary.

In 1921, Jāzeps Čamanis, later known in Latvia as a deputy of the Minister of Education, was transferred from Jūrkalne to Alšvanga as a priest. He had graduated from the Kaunas Seminary and the St. Petersburg Theological Academy. He was a tall man with a powerful voice and a good speaker. While he was still the priest in Jūrkalne, he came to Alšvanga on the first Sundays of the month and gave his passionate sermons. From Alšvanga, he went on to Dagda as a priest, then he was a war chaplain, the Director of the Belarusian gymnasium in Daugavpils and then deputy Minister of Education. Died in Rome.

In the summer of 1924, Alšvanga experienced a special event. The priest announced that the bishop ill come to visit the parish and distribute the sacrament of confirmation. A bishop had not been in Alšvanga for more than 40 years, and only those over middle age were confirmed. Bishop Jāzeps Rancāns arrived and distributed the sacrament of confirmation for three days. The lines of those who wanted to receive the sacrament wound several times around the church.

In 1924, Alberts Piebalgs, who had studied at the Kaunas Theological Seminary, took the position of the parish priest of Alšvanga. After the death of priest Lukša in Kuldīga, he was also appointed as the dean of Courland, in this way turning Alšvanga into the dean’s seat again for a short time. Alberts Piebalgs was a gifted, musical person with the talent of a poet and a stormy fantasy. He imagined that everything should happen as it seemed best to him. He could not get into the mood of the Suiti spirit and could not imagine that very soon a completely different turn of history would follow, when the priest would achieve much more with humble and enduring love than with a strict demand that everyone act as the priest thought best, not only in spiritual matters, but also purely in the field of economic life. With his sharp attitude, priest Piebalgs alienated even those whom he had won with his powerful feelings and with his passionate fluency of speech, so there was very little that saddened him when he left.

Priest Piebalg’s immortal work and the greatest gift to all Latvian Catholics were the books he published. With his books, he rose far above previous publishers. He began his publishing work with the establishment of the Klints printing house in Alšvanga in 1927. At first, he only bought a small leg-powered printing press. Three female novices worked in the printing house. He printed pages of the mysteries of the Living Rosary and some small format pamphlets of spiritual content translated or written by Piebalgs himself. In the second year, a small-format local newspaper Vērotājs was printed. Starting from 1929, the Catholic monthly edition Gaisma began to be printed. The printing house was expanded, a larger printing press was purchased, the booklet Maranatha and St. Teresa’s book of the Child Jesus were published.

In 1934, Piebalgs himself moved to Cēsis and the printing house also moved there, expanding it with the machines of the Daugavpils Department of Work and Knowledge. Gaisma came out in an expanded, larger format. The most valuable work was the prayer book Rosary, which went through three editions, and the small prayer book Let Your Kingdom Come. Other books published by Piebalg were also a gift from God.

A. Piebalgs was helped by an older priest from Skaistkalne, Antons Kveders, a great linguist, classicist and friend of the youth, but a very weak preacher. Priest Kveders was warm and fatherly, caring, hardworking and punctual. He carefully prepared and wrote his sermons. His diction in his sermons was quite pathetic, but the people liked his sermons. In his private life he was a true stoic and a Catholic priest in the full sense of the word. Later, he was a priest in Gudenieki and then Kuldīga, where he also died.

During the time of Dean Piebalgs, the following persons were still working as vicars in Alšvanga: Broņislavs Dūre, Aleksandrs Vanags, Dominiks Maķejonoks, Vaclavs Kozlovskis (the latter two later redierunt as statum civilem).

In September 1932, Pēteris Upenieks from Jaunaglona came to Alšvanga as a vicar, born in 1906 in the parish of Alšvanga, in the farm of Lienoti. He had finished the Riga Theological Seminary and was ordained in 1930. Worked in Jaunaglona, Alšvanga, Subate, Brunava, Viļāni. Later in 1944, Pēteris Upenieks graduated from the Faculty of Theology and continued to work in Aizpute, Talsi and Bauska. From 1953 he worked as a chaplain at the Riga Theological Seminary until his death in 1972. During his life, Pēteris Upenieks wrote several books, of which Balandnieki was published.

In 1933, dean A. Piebalgs was replaced in Alšvanga by the later cardinal transferred from Lēnas, Juliāns Vaivods, who graduated from the St. Petersburg Theological Seminary. He served the congregation alone for three years, except for the last couple of months when Jāzeps Kupinskis was sent as vicar. Juliāns Vaivods spoke in true Suiti style, without pathos, sincerely and matter-of-factly. During his time, a new ceiling was put in the church, the panel was sheathed with boards, the church was whitewashed both from the outside and the inside, a dry wooden residential part was added to the century-old, damp residential house and a second floor was built. The news of his transfer to Jaunjelgava was received with genuine sadness.

In the thirties (probably in 1939) the Kalnbirze cemetery was established and consecrated.

In the fall of 1936, the former parish priest of Dviete, Boļeslavs Dižgalvis, a graduate of the Kaunas Theological Seminary, was appointed as the priest in Alšvanga. Jāzeps Kupinskis and later Rolands Vegis helped him in serving the congregation. Boļeslav Dižgalvis reluctantly came to Alšvanga after Juliāns Vaivods, saying, that Vaivods was pulled out of Alšvanga like a healthy tooth is pulled out of a mouth. He did not carry out any major construction works, but with his bright mind, peace and kindness, he became a father to his congregation. His sermons were not particularly remarkable, but his good heart was endearing. There were always lines of confessors at his confessional, because people recognized that no one could open their hearts as well as the old priest. Dižgalvis parted with this world in Alsunga (former Alšvanga) in 1964 and has been buried in the Kalnbirze cemetery. It was touching that the men of Alsunga themselves promised to carry their good Father to the grave on their shoulders. The path to the grave was strewn with blue flowers. Priest Dižgalvis had several vicars: Vaclavs Kozlovskis, Jāzeps Kupinskis, Broņislavs Dūre, Eduards Putnis and Rolands Veģis.

In 1955, Boļeslavs Zveisalnieks came to Alsunga after completing two courses and one semester in the Riga Catholic Seminary. He was a good speaker and won people’s sympathy, but he did not suffer any reprimands from his superiors or older colleagues. The church was whitewashed during Zveisalnieks. He apostatized.

After Zveisalnieks, in 1955, Andrejs Mocāns, who had completed the Riga Catholic Seminary, came from Tukums. He was good-natured and agreeable, but did not know how to show himself in the priesthood with the right attitude. He also apostatized.

In 1956, priest Bernards Mortuks arrived to Alsunga. Before that, he had worked in Tukums and Līvbērze. He got along well with old Monsignor Dižgalvis, was hardworking, kind and warm to everyone. During his time, several cemeteries were fenced and the church was whitewashed. In 1965, he was transferred to Bebrene, where he also died and was buried in 1969. In 1957, Alsunga was visited by bishop Dr. Pēteris Strods, but in 1967, by bishop Prelate Juliāns Vaivods.

During the time of priest Bernards Mortuks, the sacristian Pēteris Zommers, son of the former sacristian Pāvils Zommers, who was born in 1903 in a poor forest hut, started working in the Alsunga church. He really wanted to study and become a priest. With this intention, he joined Viļani monastery, but since he had already finished his military service and had no basic education, he was entrusted with the management of the farm in the monastery, so that it would give the opportunity to the younger ones to learn. Pēteris Zommers carried out his duties as a sacristian in Alsunga with great love. This always warm-hearted man died after losing his eye sight in 1989 and was buried in the Kalnbirze cemetery.

In 1965, after Mortuks, priest Jānis Voitiņš came to Alsunga, who had before that worked in Valmiera, Kombuļi and Gudenieki. During his time, the church was again whitewashed, inner windows were put in, the roof and the rotten panel were repaired. Jānis Voitiņš worked in Alsunga until September 1984, when it was moved to Ludza, and later to Valmiera.

After priest Voitiņš, Pēteris Stukļa was removed from Kuldīga to Alsunga, where he worked until May 1992. Then priest Stukļa was transferred further to Liepāja as Chancellor of the Curia. However, he fell ill and died at the end of 1993. He chose his last resting place in Alsunga near the church.

After the transfer of Pēteris Stukļa, Alsunga was served by Agris Lēvalds until August 1994, who at that time also worked as the parish priest in Ventspils.

Viktors Grebeško, transferred from Kuldīga, started working in Alsunga after priest Lēvalds, who worked in Alsung until May 2007. In 2007, the tradition of chanting at crosses in the month of May was restored.

Priest Grebeško is replaced by Toms Priedoliņš, born in Jūrkalne, who worked here for only three months – until July, when he was transferred further to Ilūkste, then to Kolka. In this short time, he lead the first renewed pilgrimage to Žemaiču Kalvarija in Lithuania, in which more than 20 people participated. Pilgrimages to Calvary had been an old tradition of the Suits from the times when Alshwanga was administratively under the Bishopric of Telsi.

Tomas Priedoliņš was replaced by priest Andris Vasilevskis, who gained great popularity here and also focused on economic affairs by installing heating in the Alsunga church, repairing the sacristian’s house and insulating the church ceiling. During his time, lighting of the facade of the church was installed and the first Suiti flag was raised on a mast in front of the church.

Priest Gatis Mārtiņš Bezdelīga took over the parish in June 2015.