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Until 1387, Lithuania was a pagan country. Many different gods were worshipped. The highest god was Dievas, a kind of Zeus figure. Other gods were Pekunas, god of thunder, Pikuolis, god of the underworld, Bangputys, god of the sea, Gabija, goddess of fire and Milda, goddess of love. There was a strong belief in life after death and the dead were buried with food, drink and household goods. Paganism was still practised long after Christianity had made its appearance. There have been several revivals under the name Romuva in the twentieth century.

In 1386, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania converted to Christianity, especially to Roman Catholicism. This also had a political background; it was one of the conditions to form one empire together with Poland. Samogitian in the West were converted only in 1413 as a result of the uncertain political situation.

In the 16th century, the Reformation initially had a great influence on the Lithuanian population. But in the end, Protestantism continued to operate on the fringes, among others due to the Counter-Reformation, which was led by the (Catholic) Jesuits. Also Russian orthodoxy under the tsarist regime did not really get a foothold.

The Catholic faith now served as a source of nationalistic feelings. Catholicism was seriously threatened at the time of Soviet rule, when atheism became the official religion. One third of all Catholic priests were deported to Siberia in Russia. Moreover, monasteries and nunneries were closed and churches were confiscated and turned into department stores, sports halls and art galleries. Only a few Catholic churches remained open under very difficult circumstances. The highlight was the church of St. Casimir in Vilnius which was turned into the Museum of Atheism! In general, all these attempts to suppress Catholicism backfired. Nationalist feelings and the Catholic faith went hand in hand. After independence in 1991, the Catholic faith received a new boost.

At present, about 75% of Lithuanians adhere to the Catholic faith, actively or not. The Russian Orthodox Church has the second most followers after Catholicism, approximately 5% of the population. Approximately 1% of the population is Protestant. The Lutherans have 45 congregations throughout the country, the Reformed Church has only nine. Furthermore, as in the other former Soviet republics, many sects originating from the United States are active.


Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania : country studies
Federal Research Division, Library of Congress

McLachlan, G. / Lithuania
Bradt Publications

Williams, N. / Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania
Lonely Planet,

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated May 2024
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