Vilnius City Municipality
|Cemetery notes and/or description:|
There is some question about the date that Rasos Cemetery was actually started. Several printed sources state 1769, while historians reason this date is an old typo and it should be 1796. Over the years, there have been several additions. On April 24, 1801 the new cemetery was consecrated. A formal document was signed in July 1801 specifying that the cemetery would receive 460 acres of land on the outskirts of town, and it would be free to all residents of Vilnius. This cemetery broke from the tradition of having cemeteries in the church yard. From 1802 to1807, two columbaria were built, which were five-story in height and joined at a right angle. From 1844 to 1850, a neo-gothic red-brick chapel was built between the columbaria with an elaborate alter for praying. Prominent citizens were buried in the columbaria as well as in the cellar of the chapel; the cellar was two or three stories deep in the ground with winding stairs. In 1888, a matching bell tower was added to the chapel. A wooden fence surrounded the cemetery but it burned down in 1812 with Napoleon Bonaparte’s march; it was replaced with a brick wall with portions still standing against the test of time. After purchasing additional land, the cemetery expanded in 1814 and this section is called “Hill of Literaries” or “Literatu kalnelis” in Lithuanian. In 1847, members of the Eastern Orthodox Church opened a neighboring cemetery, which became the final resting place for dead soldiers from the local monastery hospital and the city’s indigents. It was named the “Cemetery of Orphans" or “Našlaičių kapinėa” in Lithuanian. Sadly, the columbaria started to deteriorate by 1900. After World War II, the Soviet authorities demolished the right columbarium, and the riots of 1970 caused the left one to be destroyed. As for those interred, hundreds of old graves are still there mostly unmarked. The entire cemetery was going to be destroyed in the 1980’s as the government had plans for a major highway to go through the property. With the government facing economical difficulties and the Polish press leading a campaign against the location of the highway, these plans were abandoned. The cemetery is a beautiful maze of terraces with winding sidewalks and stairs. Many of the original simple round-top tombstones are still standing; ornate marble or granite markers made by well-know sculptors as well as hundreds of tall crosses are randomly scattered about the grounds. There is the “Angel” section which has only small markers for infant graves. There is a section with matching markers in rows for those who were loss between 1920 to 1921 in the Battle of Vilnius. A cemetery’s blueprint would not reveal neat rows with the same size plots; in some areas, the markers are very dense, overcrowded with little planning of the plot’s location. With Lithuanian independence in 1990 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Lithuanian and Polish authorities collaborated in a restoration of this historical cemetery, as it is a valuable part of each country’s history. The chapel has recently been restored. Time, numerous wars, disrespect for another nation’s dead, and neglect from the lack of financial means have taken a toll on the old cemetery. The cemetery is still opened for interments.