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The following text in abbreviated form, supplemented in some places, has been taken from the book written by J. Vaivods in 1946, History of the Catholic Church in Latvia. Church history in Courland in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Nothing much can be said about the Gudenieku parish in the 19th century, because it did not exist as a separate parish at all. The parishes of Gudenieku and Basi are the so-called fat corner of the parish of Alšvanga, because the land there is much more fertile and therefore the inhabitants are generally wealthier. The number of small landowners, compared to other parts of the parish, is tiny. Even the new owners, created by Land reform of 1920s, lived in prosperity there. The members of Gudenieki parish are the same Suiti as the Alšvanga residents and they do not differ from them in terms of clothing either.

As it was already mentioned in the description of the Alšvanga parish, vicar Aleksandrs Milevskis expanded the Gudenieki school and installed temporary church premises in the annex. He himself also settled there around 1875, thereby proposing the idea of establishing a permanent congregation in Gudenieki. But Milevskis organizational work run into resistance from the self-appointed Gudenieki teacher Miķelis Cīrulis. Having turned from a simple tsarist soldier into a teacher, Cīrulis remained conceited and also promiscuous. He was organizing loud parties at the school to interfere with the religious services taking place there. The priest succeeded in removing Cīrulis from his position as a teacher and replacing him with his student Liepnieks, but Cīrulis did not want to leave the school premises, and since he was simulating an illness, the parish court had to take him out of the school together with his bed.

Completely enraged, Cīrulis later converted to Orthodoxy in defiance of the priest and draged his two brothers into it as well. For this, he got a teaching position for a while, but only in Siberia. Later, he returned to his homeland, left the Orthodox faith and lived in his hut in Alshvanga parish as a loner – a stranger. The brothers’ children, however, continued to adhere to Orthodoxy. The tragic death of the first Gudenieki priest Milevskis and the broken life of the teacher Cīrulis were not enough. The Gudenieki school itself later burned down together with the church premises. As the old Suits say, only the painting of the Blessed Virgin Mary was left untouched by the fire.

However, the idea of founding a separate Gudenieki parish was not completely abandoned, although it was realized only in the 20th century. In 1918, near the Gudenieki municipal administration and the parish school, a land plot was acquired from the Čīmas farm. In 1920, a temporary wooden church was built there – a simple, rather spacious building. The church was dedicated to St. John the Baptist. A residential house for the priest with small outbuildings was also constructed there.

The place for the church was chosen based on the distance to the boundaries of the new parish, but otherwise it was not advantageous. A low plain with such hard clay soil that even the planted trees did not want to grow there. Nothing pleased the eyes there, and the first parish priests of Gudenieki could not feel otherwise, as Adam felt after being expelled from paradise. That is why the priests in Gudenieki often changed. Priest Venclavs was the first to come to the new presbytery. He was replaced by Kveders, but he soon moved to Kuldīga.

A young priest from Latgale, Pēteris Bojars, was then holding the post of the priest for a few years, and he had to stay there, willingly or unwillingly, until the construction of the new church began. Wanting to get away from Gudenieki as soon as possible, he hastened to start construction. In 1930, a church building committee was established, and after acquiring the necessary materials and preparing a plan, the foundations of the church were laid, which showed the location of the future church from afar. Dean Bojar, having done his minimal part of the work on the new building, then received a permission to move to another parish.

Priest Broņislavs Dūre replaced him, and he first tried to make the priest’s life in Gudenieki bearable. Therefore, first of all, he built a modern, spacious farm building, which in a sense could have been be a model for every farm owner. Then he rebuilt and repaired the hastily and sloppily built presbytery, making it a comfortable residence. The surrounding farm land, which was similar to a swamp, was also drained and cultivated. The material for the construction of the new church was also gradually being collected. It was understandable that the church building itself had to remain idle for the time being during the mentioned construction works. The priest’s actions were far-sighted and it had long been proven in practice that when founding a new parish, first of all, the priest himself must create normal living conditions, because later it is difficult to get the congregation to fund constructiona of farm buildings. The congregation, understandably, wanted more progress with the new church, the construction of which was hindered by other construction works.

Therefore, in the end, priest Dūre had to move elsewhere, and in his place (November 1937) came the former priest of Brunava, Alfons Melderis. His situation was easier, because the work on the farm building was almost done, he could start building the church right away. It was necessary to amend the plan of the church and, in connection with that, to transform the foundations in some places, around which the stacked racks had already rotted. As a result of several years of hard work and the persistent will of the Suiti, the walls of the new church in Gudenieki were built, the rafters were installed and part of the roof was also completed. The roof material was also acquired, but the political upheavals of the last years and war conditions did not allow the work to continue successfully.

The congregation of Gudenieki had done everything possible in this regard, and it is to be hoped that, when the economic situation stabilizes, they will experience the happy day when the Blessed Sacrament will be able to be joyfully transferred from the old temporary church to the new stately stone sanctuary, which will be the most modern and newest church in the land of the Suiti. With this, the church will also gain its attractiveness. As pastors fled from Gudenieki in the past, so later they will try to become parish priests there, because materially this congregation will be one of the best in Lower Courland.

After the construction of a temporary church in Gudenieki and the legal separation of the parish from Alšvanga, in January 1923 Baron Otto Hahn was appointed as the first permanent priest of the new parish. He was the son of Hahn, the owner of the Vormsate manor. After his conversion, he studied at the St. Petersburg Theological Seminary, but after its closure, he completed his studies abroad. He worked in Gudenieki for one year, and, during this time, the old baron Han died near him, having accepted the Catholic faith before his death and was provided with the sacraments. He was also buried in the Kumstera cemetery in Gudenieki. Priest Hahn’s life was short. In 1924, as a vicar in Varakļāni, he fell ill with typhus and died in Krāslava, where he had gone when he was already sick. Buried in Krāslava cemetery.

From January 1924 to May 1926, Mārtiņš Venclavs was the priest in Gudenieki. During his time the new presbytery was built, because earlier the priest lived in rented premises. From May 1926 to April 1927, priest Antons Kvederas performed the duties in Gudenieki. After him, priest Pujāts Dominiks worked here for one year. From June 1928 to May 1933, Pēteris Bojārs was the priest. During his time in Gudenieki, the foundations of the new church were laid. In May 1933, Boļeslavs (Broņislavs) Dūre, vicar of Alšvang, whose activities have already been mentioned before, came to Gudenieki as a priest and stayed here until November 1937.

From November 1937, the priest Alfons Melderis took over. He started the construction of the church in 1939. Melderis was replaced in April 1947 by Rolands Veģis, who signed the register books until October of the same year. Priest Vegis died on February 19, 1982. Then, in 1948, priest Julians Samušs followed, who worked in Gudenieki until October 1963. Priest Samušs died on March 23, 1980. From October 3, 1963 to January 1965, the register books were signed by Jānis Voitiņš. He was followed by Bernards Mickēvičs, who was replaced by Antons Blažēvics on March 13, 1970. Priest Blaževičs worked in the Gudenieki parish until 1973.

Between 1973 and 1980, Staņislavs Bojaruns was the priest here. In July 1980, Jānis Voitiņš appeared again in the registers, although Bojaruns was followed by Zavaļņuks according to the church records. From September 1983 to December 1984, R. Latkovskis was in Gudenieki. In 1985, he was replaced by Pēteris Stukļa, who also serveed the parish of Alsunga. Although priest Stukļa signed the last register entries on December 13, 1990, it seems that he worked in Gudenieki until May 1992. One entry from 1993 mentioned Agris Lēvalds, who at that time also served Alsunga from Ventspils and did so until August 16, 1994.

After priest Lēvalds, priest Viktors Grebeško, transferred from Kuldīga, started his work in Gudenieki. He served Alsunga, Gudenieki and Jūrkalne until June 1, 2007. Then Toms Priedoliņš, who was born in Jūrkalne, was appointed to the place of priest Grebeško, who worked here until the beginning of July, when he was transferred further to Ilūksti, then to Kolka. Priest Priedoliņš is replaced by priest Andris Vasiļevskis. It was during his time, that the surroundings of the church were cleaned, and a pond was dug near the church. Since June 1, 2015, priest Gatis Mārtiņš Bezdelīga has been serving in the parish.

The origin of the wooden angels attached to the wall in the Gudenieki church has been connected with the woodcarving workshop of Subate. The massive layer of paint cannot hide the antiquity of these late 17th or early 18th century images. The favorite pose of the master of Subate with raised hands, the dress falling in rhythmic lines, the folded edges of the chiton in the front and the characteristic belt with a buckle, the characteristic features of the face with a long nose, smooth forehead and curls of hair under the ears are not repeated anywhere else in the decorative sculpture of Courland Baroque. In the context of the workshop, the cross installed in the church with the image of the Savior and a lamb lying on the Bible at its foot could also be important. The cross is undeniably a new creation, but the modeling of the crucified body and the bow of the head correspond to the style of the Subate master. A lamb is also used as a decorative motif in this workshop’s practice. It is not known how these carvings ended up in the Gudenieki church, but their origin is connected with Courland and they can be seen as witnesses of the early period of the Subate circle workshop.

Features of the Suiti

As a peculiarity of the land of the Suiti, the many crosses erected on the roadsides and in the fields should be noted. A stranger visiting the land of the Suiti could be wondering what this place is and what those crosses mean. It means the same as every cross for a Christian, and at the same time it also gives evidence that it is a Catholic land.

The second peculiarity of the Suiti is the large number of cemeteries. There are more than twenty cemeteries in the parish of Alšvanga. There are nine in the Gudenieku parish. In this respect, the Suiti are similar to the Indians and, like the latter, they want to see from the window of their house the place where their ancestors and relatives rest. Therefore, each section of the parish has its own cemetery, and often very close to each other. Every year, cemeteries hold a grave festival, where the residents of the region of the respective cemetery gather. In general, the Suiti often remember their departed, asking for their souls and reciting prayers for them in churches.

Since ancient times, there has also been an annual visitation of the congregation, which is still called linošana, although linošana itself has now been abandoned. The parishes of the Suiti were divided into separate districts, and each district was assigned its own churchman, whose duties included taking the priest around his district with his horses during the visitation. Visitation days were announced in the church, and this day was a holiday for every house.

Such are the Suiti, which are known throughout Latvia and such are their spiritual habits. The secular customs of the Suiti: songs, dances and bagpipes have long been described by ethnographers and folklorists.