Publicum Dolori Theatrum: Funerals of the Nobility in the Mid-18th Century in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania

Lina Balaišytė (PDF)

In the 18th century, funerals of the nobility were a public celebration involving the participation of city-dwellers of all social layers. The significance of such ceremonies is demonstrated by their descriptions, regularly appearing in the periodical press of the time and frequently published as separate supplements to newspapers. Funerals were regarded as an act of respect for the deceased, an occasion for enumeration of his achievements for the state and the Church, and a vehicle for display of the noble family. The public character of the funerals of the wealthy was represented by lengthy rituals at the home of the deceased and large funeral processions accompanying the dead to the church, with the participation of municipal officers, guilds, fraternities, clergy and noblemen. Public ceremonies were also held by various institutions, such as magistrates, monastic orders and Vilnius Academy, to pay their last respects to dead state officials.

At the church where the dead were laid out, along with the funeral service, the deceased were honoured by decorations created for the occasion. These were elaborate structures, so-called castrum doloris, decorated with emblems and symbolic devices, which may be viewed as a visual panegyric for the deceased. Funeral decorations matched the funeral rhetoric requirement for glorification of the deceased based on what was before him (the origin that was represented in funeral decorations by the coat of arms of the family), within him (the personality of the deceased was rendered in the decor through his portrait, initials, symbolic representations of his virtues, etc.) and after him (glory as a result of the work done for the good of the state and the Church was expressed in decorations as symbols of beneficence, offices and military achievements). The publicity and theatricality of the funerary feasts held in Vilnius in the mid-18th century and the symbolic-emblematic nature of the decorations suggested their Baroque form and content. Compared to the previous century, its nature remained the same.

Keywords: mid-18th century, Grand Duchy of Lithuania, nobility, funerals, occasional decorations, castrum doloris, coat of arms, emblems