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Jūrkalne (Fēliksberga)

The old church, slightly to the left, when walking towards the sea coast from the present church, has been taken by the sea due to coastal erosion. It had been built between 1590 and 1610 and in its lifetime it was a branch of the Alšvanga Catholic church. Later, in 1786, with the financial help of Peter Biron, Duke of Courland, a new stone church was built, which also had a graveyard. These graves were also washed into the sea during Latvia’s first independence. As late as 1925, an old wooden cross and some foundation stones of the old church were still visible in that place on the seashore. All that remains of this church is a metal cross with a crescent-like cross at the bottom. In 1862, the new (already the third) present stone church was consecrated.

According to an old legend, a service was held in the first (oldest) church during a storm. A news came that a ship had just sunk near the old graves. The pastor with flags and a censer, inviting those parishioners who wanted to participate, went to the seaside. A rowboat went out to save the seamen. They reach it with difficulty and saved part of the team. The ship was washed ashore with the captain and other crew members. The captain then named this place Felixsberg (happy shore) in honor of the lucky rescue, which was later changed to Pilsberg. The settlement was formally renamed Jūrkalne during the first independence.

According to another story, in ancient times, when sailing ships were still sailing, one of them sunk near Jūrkalne. Only one officer survived from the ship’s crew, who came ashore and named this place Felixsberg – the happy mountain. The officer was German by nationality. At that time, the rescued officer had a church built opposite the place where the ship sank in the sea. In the current Jūrkalne church, a drawing can be seen on the ceiling – a sailor in a stormy sea. The first church is said to have fallen into the sea. But the second was struck by lightning and burned.

Below we take a look at several fragments from the book History of the Catholic Church in Latvia written in 1946 by Cardinal J. Vaivods. Church History in Courland in the 19th and 20th Centuries, supplemented with information from Pēteris Upeniek’s manuscript Past of Alsunga Speaks and other sources.

The Jūrkalne Church is the oldest branch of the Alšvanga Church and, as it follows from the 1892 report of priest A. Lukša to the dean, throughout the 19th century it was still largely united with its mother – Alšvanga, although a permanent priest Georgs Rožanskis has been living there since 1865 and, starting from 1866, he kept separate church registers.

In the 1853 dean’s report on the chapels of his deanery, it is stated that the Jūrkalne chapel has collapsed from age. The details of this unfortunate fact are mentioned in the acts of the dean of 1857. The bishop of Samogitia had requested a review from the dean of Courland, whether there is a need for a church in Jūrkalne. On March 2, 1857, dean Landsbergs reported to the bishop that a stone chapel had existed in Jūrkalne for over two hundred years, but when it started collapsing from age, the Courland administration sent an architect Korf to look at it and on his order the chapel was demolished. The bricks and tiles were handed over to Jūrkalne manor for storage, but now there is nothing left of them. The farmers of Jūrkalne promised to collect funds for the craftsman and to buy the necessary iron parts and make windows, but the manor must give masonry and wood material, because the chapel has been demolished by the order of the Courland administration. The conclusion was that a church in Jūrkalne is really necessary, because Alšvanga church is too far and also too small for the people of Jūrkalne. On Sundays in Alšvanga, up to a half of all worshipers have to stay outside because there is not enough place for them in the church.

The current church in Jūrkalne was built in 1861, and the following year it was consecrated in honor of St. Joseph. In the inventories of the Jūrkalne church, it is noted that the first Jūrkalne church (a wooden chapel) was built by Count Johann Ulrich von Schwerin in 1637. Descendants of the same family built a stone church in Jūrkalne in 1786, which the parishioners expanded in 1861.

As stated in the aforementioned dean’s report, this stone chapel, built in 1786, fell into disrepair in less than a hundred years and was completely demolished. It is possible that the present church was built on old foundations. This church, built in 1861, was expanded in 1870, when a tower was added to the entrance, the lower part of which now forms a 6 x 4 meter church vestibule. The church has two altars. There are two bells in the tower.

Jūrkalne inhabitants belong to the Suiti and, unlike Alšvanga residents, are called maģie (small) Suiti. Not only on major holidays, but also on simple Sundays, as long as they did not have a permanent pastor, they diligently visited the Alšvanga church and had close relations with the people of Alšvanga. This, however, did not prevent them from once in a while having fights with the great Suits and, only being pursued by their superior numbers, they retreated to the Margava bridge on such occasions.

Economically, Jūrkalne did not belong to wealthy areas, but they could usually spend more in the pub than residents of Alšvanga, because many of them, in addition to agriculture, were also engaged in fishing and therefore could earn money more often. They had also emancipated themselves more quickly from the rest of the Suiti, especially in terms of clothing. That is why now in Jūrkalne even women are rarely seen in a national dress. When selling their fish catches, the people of Jūrkalne often went to nearest cities and quickly got to know and adopted the customs and clothes of modern times. Also, their relationship with the church is a little different than it is with Alšvanga Suiti.

The people of Jūrkalne have also become more familiar with the revolutionary movement and to a wider extent and have taken a more active role in it. This can especially be said about the year 1905. Therefore, many of them later fled and hid from the punitive expedition sent by the tsarist government, which in Lower Courland was led by Baron Bredrich. Bredrich managed to convince the parish priest of Jūrkalne, Linde, that those revolutionaries who leave their hiding places and return home will not be punished, and the priest had agreed to announce this promise from the pulpit. Many of them obeyed the priest and stopped hiding. Unfortunately, Bredrich had them all arrested, and many of them were shot near Valtaiķi. Even today, their names can be read on a monument erected during the first independence of Latvia. This circumstance upset the inhabitants of Jūrkalne so much in their suspicions of their priest, that part of the congregation, especially men, were not willing to attend church for a long time. The credulous priest was left with eternal heartache for the murdered parishioners, and the Jūrkalne congregation had cut a big hole in its spiritual life.

Georgs Rožanskis was the first permanent priest in Jūrkalne starting from 1865. In 1870, he was replaced by Vladislavs Dombrovskis, described as a big weirdo. After priest Dombrovskis came Juris Novickis, who had lived in Jūrkalne for 13 years. During his time, the current presbytery was built and the priest himself planted various trees around the presbytery, which have now grown large and many of them have already withered in the thin sand. The congregation respected priest Novickis very much and had never called him anything other than an uncle, even though he was not old yet. Dean Novickis died on June 8, 1888 in Jūrkalne at the age of 59 and was buried near the church. At one time, he was persecuted by the Russian government due to his involvement in the Polish uprising.

After the death of priest Novickis, the Jūrkalne parish was taken over by Stanislavs Stakjalo and he led it until the end of 1890. He was a man of strength, a great stranger and very energetic in his relations with the members of the congregation, whom he even dragged into the church. The old residents of Jūrkalne say that one Sunday before the service, he even went to the nearby pub to invite the parishioners there to church. It is said that one of them ran into the stable and wanted to escape from there through the bottom of the gate, but the priest managed to grab him by the coat. The outcome of the struggle was very sad for the fur coat, because its sleeves were torn off. The farmer ran out of the barn with only the sleeves of his coat on his hands, but the coat remained in the strong hands of the pastor.

From October 1891 to October 1892, pastor Antons Bizovskis performed the duties of Jūrkalne priest. But in November of the same year he was replaced by Fricis Štempelis. Before this appointment he had worked in Jēkabpils as a priest, but, because he failed to carry the sacred Sacrament out of the burning church, he was punished by transfer to Jelgava as a vicar. Later, he was sent as priest to Jūrkalne, where he stayed until the middle of 1899. Fricis Štempelis was dominated by two innocent passions: fishing and repairing watches, to which he devoted all his free time.

Between 1899 and 1902, the priest of Jūrkalne was Tadeus Pranasevičs, who at first did not know the Latvian language at all. In the next five years (1902 – 1907), Julijans Linde served as the parish priest of Jūrkalne. In 1907, Francisks Vitkevičs was sent to Jūrkalni as priest, during whose time a tin roof was put on the church tower. After him for eight years (1912 – 1920) Jūrkalne was served by Jāzeps Čamanis, the later priest of Alšvang. During his time, the current stables of the priest’s farm were built.

From 1920 to 1924, Jāzeps Kupinskis worked as a priest. He organized a choir and generally singing in the church. After him, Antons Čamanis (little Čamanītis, because compared to Jāzeps Čamanis he was small in body, but big in spirit) fulfilled the duties of priest for only one year. After graduating from the St. Petersburg Theological Seminary, he had worked in Aglona, and after Jūrkalne also in Vecpilis and Rudzāti. Antons Čamanis later studied ecclesiastical law in Rome and prepared for the activity of the Eastern missions. Died and buried in Rome.

In all times, most of the priests have lived in Jūrkalne for a short time, but starting with Antons Čamanis, things changed even more rapidly. The next priest, Tadeušs Ronkaitis, stayed here for just a little longer than a year, until October 1926. He came to Jūrkalni with a relatively large baggage, which the previous priests of Jūrkalne did not have, but he soon used it up and left Jūrkalne, because the congregation did not support him materially. Therefore, from October 1926 to June 1928, Jūrkalne parish was left completely without a priest and it was served by the priest of Alšvanga and the dean of Courland Alberts Piebalgs with his vicar Broņislavs Dūris.

On June 14, 1928, Jāzeps Cibulis was transferred to Jūrkalni as a priest. He worked diligently to cultivate the spiritual life in the congregation, carried out the previously mentioned church repairs and built a chapel in Saka. With the transfer of priest Cibulis to Lēnas on September 2, 1936, the Jūrkalne parish is once again was left without a permanent pastor, and it was served by the vicar of Alšvanga and former priest Jāzeps Kupinskis. Only starting from January 14, 1940, Jūrkalne parish again got a permanent priest Aloizijs Anspoks, but from December 19, 1940 to March 27, 1941, he did not live in Jūrkalne, and during that time the parish was served by the vicar of Alšvanga, Eduards Putns. After returning to Jūrkalne, priest Anspoks lived there until October 8, 1944, when he left his homeland altogether. In 1940, priest Anspoks experienced great trouble from the Soviet authorities, and therefore in his nervousness he had reached the point of persecution mania. This explains his partial disagreements with some church members and his emigration to Germany.

On October 2, 1944, the bishop appointed Broņislavs Dūre, the former parish priest of Ozol-Brukna, as a priest to Jūrkalne. He had graduated from the St. Petersburg Theological Seminary and was a warm and helpful person who had almost no enemies. Broņislavs Dūre worked in Jūrkalne until 1955, when he was replaced by Boļeslavs Zveisalnieks, who was replaced by Andrejs Mocāns in the same year, on September 23. Priest Mocāns worked here until March 14, 1958. In parallel with his work in Jūrkalne, he also worked in Alsunga until April 4, 1956, after which he was a priest in the Saka parish. Both Zvejsalnieks and Mocāns later renounced the church (in apostasy). From March 14 to May 20, 1958, Jūkalni was served by Bernards Mortuks from Alsunga.

From May 20, 1958 to June 24, 1959, Jāzeps Trukšans was the priest of both Jūrkalne and Saka. In 1959, he publicly renounced the church and the post of a priest. After that, Jūrkalne was again served by priest Mortuks from Alsunga until 1960. Between 1960 and January 10, 1966, Marian monk Kazimirs Cukurs worked in Jūrkalne. In addition to the Jūrkalne parish, he also served the Saka parish. From January 10, 1966 to July 17, 1967, Jūrkalni was served by Bernards Mickevičs from Gudenieki and Jānis Voitiņš from Alsunga, until the government started to put up obstacles for obtaining entry permits in the border zone.

From July 17, 1967 to September 12, 1978, Ludvigs Krumpāns was the priest of Jūrkalne and Saka and vicar in Alsunga. Under the care of priest Krumpāns, electricity was installed in the Jūrkalne church, the church was painted twice from the outside and once from the inside. In the period from September 12, 1978 to December 13, 1988, Jūrkalni and Saka were served by Staņislavs Mukāns from Ventspils. A tin roof was put on the tower and the church was painted once again under the care of priest Mukāns. In 1981, between February 4 and June, Jūrkalni was served by Vladislavs Zavaļņuks from Gudenieki, until he was refused an entry permit. Under the supervision of priest Zavaļņuks, steel bars were installed on the windows. He wanted to do other repairs as well, but couldn’t.

From December 14, 1988 to August 16, 1994, Jūrkalni was served by Agris Lēvalds from Ventspils. From August 16, 1994 to June 2007, priest Viktors Grebeško worked here. In June and early July 2007, Toms Priedoliņš, who was born and raised here, worked in Jūrkalne, who after being transferred to Ilūkste in July was replaced by Andris Vasilevskis, and in December by Mariušs Kempa. Until 2015, Andris Vasilevskis worked again in Jūrkalne, when he was replaced by priest Gatis Mārtiņš Bezdelīga.

Day of Plants in Jūrkalne

Usually, in other regions of Latvia, June 23, when Midsommer is traditionally celebrated, is called the Day of Plants, but in Jūrkalne, August 15 is called in this name – the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. This is because earlier this day marked the end of three days of worship. At the end of the service, the hall was blessed in the church. Both young carrots and onions and other garden fruits were blessed, as well as wild herbs recognized as useful for health.

When going to church, everyone took with them a bouquet of herbs or plants intended for blessing. In the church, the these bouquets were placed on the windowsills so that sometimes they even reached three and four layers on the windows. The church was usually decorated with oak wreaths, so when you entered it, you could smell both oak and holy herbs. That’s why this day was called the Day of Plants.

August 15 began to be celebrated in the mid-1920s. Such special church holidays were celebrated in all churches – in the Alsunga parish they were Miķeļi or St. Michael’s day, in Gudenieki they were Jāņi or St. John’s day, because the Alsunga church is dedicated to St. Michael, but Gudenieki church to St. John. Jūrkalne church is dedicated to St. Joseph, that is why this major church holiday should have been celebrated on March 19, but then it is the time of Lent and the day is also not suitable for such a holiday. Therefore, at the parish meeting, it was decided to celebrate this holiday on August 13, 14 and 15.

Back then it was also taken into account that in Courland there were no important church celebrations at this time. That is why Jūrkalne was considered the Aglona of Courland, and pilgrims from other parishes went there, similar to how they go on pilgrimages to Aglona in Latgale. Earlier on this holiday, 5 to 6 priests came to Jūrkalne and participated in church services. The old people of Jūrkalne judged the size and solemnity of the holiday by the number of priests who arrived. In the afternoon, lunch was held for everyone and also an outdoor dancing party was held behind the school, in the forest, which was called the Garden.