Friday, August 27, 2010

"Another Country Heard From"

I received an email from a reader in northeastern Europe:

I am writing from Vilnius, Lithuania, where I have been living for a number of years and where I was recently blessed to obtain a copy of your book, Supremacy and Survival. I found the book extremely interesting and very timely. It filled in a lot of gaps in my knowledge of this important history.

In further correspondence, the reader reminded me that Lithuanian Catholics endured great oppression under the Soviet Union and the country has been rebuilding since 1994, when Soviet troops finally left the Baltic states after Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia regained independence. Pope John Paul II visited the Hill of Crosses near Siauliai in 1993. Under Communist rule the Soviet authorities bulldozed the hill, where people came to place the crosses to proclaim their Christian identity, three times and considered flooding the area by building a dam. Each time the hill was destroyed, Lithuanians would come back to place more crosses and crucifixes. The Lithuanian tourist website features a tour that follows the path of the pope's visit.

I heard an NPR report earlier this week about continuing tensions in Estonia between the Russian nationals living there and the government of Estonia, which passed laws after independence that limited the civil rights of those Russian national families not in the country before Soviet domination began in 1944.

There's no way to compare what happened to Catholics in England to what happened to the Baltic peoples under the Soviet Union--but the connection we can apply is how long it takes for reconciliation after oppression and persecution. Even after Emancipation in 1829 and the restoration of the hierarchy in 1850, Catholics had years of rebuilding, reforming, and development to complete. They had to work out conflicts within their growing community and deal with violence and reaction against that growth in the wider British culture.


  1. I am actually just reading a book on the history of the Baltic- something of a coincidence.

    Interestingly, there were efforts at a Counter-Reformation in as remote an area as Finland. There was a famous Finnish priest, Johannes Jussoila, who was part of the effort and ended up dying in prison after torture.

    There was also a considerable amount of religious "backing and forthing" in the Vasa dynasty. For instance, there was a Catholic Polish consort of one of the Reformation-era Swedish kings and a Catholic heir to the throne, Sigismund, who was overthrown by a Protestant uncle. Much of this seems strongly reminiscent of events in England.

    I have also heard that the new trends in historiography of the English Reformation have influenced Swedish scholarship on the same period, so that more Swedish historians are looking more critically at the previous, "official" pro-Protestant versions of events.

  2. Thank you, Matterhorn, for the comments--which book are you reading? will you post a review on your blog?

  3. Well, the book I am reading right now is Alan Palmer's "The Baltic: A New History of the Region and its People" (2006), but the information about the Reformation comes partly from other books, such as Oskar Garstein's series "Rome and the Counter-Reformation in Scandinavia."