Suiti is a small Latvian Catholic community, inhabiting the historic Suiti region with its 2500 inhabitants on 402 square kilometers in the Western part of Latvia. Suiti Cultural Space is a unique example of European intangible cultural heritage which since 2009 has been inscribed on UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding. The Suiti people have always been very proud of their distinct identity and character.
History of Suiti goes back almost 400 years to a romantic story in 1623. Reformation in Grand Douchy of Courland took place 1561. In that year duke Gothard Ketler abandoned Catholic religion to become a Protestant (Lutheran). So had to do also the whole population of Courland. Practicing Catholic faith from 1561 untill 1617 was a criminal offence. But in 1623 the owner of Alsunga region, Johan Ulrich von Schwerin, in order to marry a Polish court lady Barbara Konarska, agreed to re-convert to the Catholic faith. After the marriage he had to live in exile in Lithuania and Poland until 1632, as he could return to Alsunga only after his father’s death. In 1634 Johan Ulrich invited Jesuits to establish a mission in Alsunga to help him turn all his peasants again into Catholics. He donated land to the Catholic congregation and with the help of Jesuits forcibly removed a Protestant priest from Alsunga.
When trying to expand the Catholic influence to the surrounding area he run into a violent oposition from neibouring Protestant land owners, which led to poisoning of Johan Ulrich von Schwerin in 1637. This brought about a major conflict between Protestants and Catholics and King of Poland Vladislav himself had to intervene in order to calm things down.
Schwerin family sold their property in 1738, but by then it already was a strong Catholic island surrounded from three sides by traditionally Lutheran areas and from one side boardered by the Baltic Sea. Enven though ir is not an island, for several centuries it has practically functioned as a one. Marriages across religious boundaries were strongly discouraged. The region lived to a certain degree in a religious, cultural and to some extent economic self-isolation.
This self-isolation helped to preserve a very rich traditional culture and customs, which in such a compact area is a unique phenomenon not just for Latvia. For Latvian culture this small Suiti region means its own national costume, its own dialect, over 52 thousands of recorded folk songs, very detailed marriage and other customs, many of which are still today practiced in the daily lives of the Suiti.
Today The Suiti region is an interesting place to be, with its three Catholic churches, an interesting castle, beautiful sea coast, historic architecture, rural landscapes, rich forest and natural resources and stubborn and independent minded people. We think that protecting of our identity, which our ancestors have brought through centuries is very important. We cannot afford to lose it and we believe, that with the help of God we will prevail.