February 25, 1336: Pilėnai Castle falls. The castle was located in Lithuania, the last remaining pagan country in Europe. Duke Margiris held his fortress against the Teutonic Knights siege for as long as he could. When it became evident the castle would fall to the much larger force outside, the people within made a momentous decision. Rather than submit to the Knights and allow them the profits of the booty within the walls, they rebelled. They first burned all their possessions and set the castle on fire. Then all the men, women, and children committed mass suicide. Chronicles mention there were 4,000 men defending the castle. The Teutonic Order was left with a pyrrhic victory.
The Teutonic Knights formed at the end of the 1100s in Acre, in the Levant. When Christian forces in the Middle East fell, the Knights moved to Transylvania in 1211 to help with defense of borders. The Kingdom of Hungary was under attack from the Kipchaks. While originally being helpful, by 1225, they were expelled by King Andrew II of Hungary because they attempted to place themselves under Papal sovereignty rather than pledging loyalty to the King. Five years later, with the Golden Bull of Rimini in hand, they began the Prussian Crusade and formed a joint invasion of Prussia with intent to Christianize the Baltic Old Prussians.
The Knights were led by Grand Master Hermann von Salza with the aid of Duke Konrad I of Masovia but the Knights quickly reneged against a Polish prince who helped them. Instead of collaborating, they took control of the Chełmno Land and created an independent Monastic State of the Teutonic Knights. They continued to add lands to their territory and conquered Livonia, too. The Kings of Poland accused the Knights of holding lands rightfully belonging to the secular kings. The Knights did not withdraw. Instead, they simply changed their focus. Rather than trying to Christianize Lithuania, they attacked many Christian neighbors to expand their base of control. With more lands, their wealth increased and they were able to hire more mercenaries and the cycle continued.
Lithuania’s first contact with the Christian religion predated the formation of the Duchy of Lithuania. The first meeting with Lithuania was recorded in 1009 and took place when Roman Catholic missionaries came to the area and baptized several rulers of the Baltic tribe of Yotvingians. The Lithuanians has more contact with the Kievan Rus who had adopted the Eastern Orthodox version of Christianity. Christian influence became evident in the 11th and 12th centuries when Christian names began to appear. Still the majority of the people were pagan. With Christianity knocking on her borders, Lithuania needed to adopt a state religion. While rulers were swayed by the political exigencies of one religion or another, East vs. West, the populace remained pagan. Official Christianization took place in 1387.
There’s something in every atheist, itching to believe, and something in every believer, itching to doubt. – Mignon McLaughlin
It is doubtless true that religion has been the world’s psychiatrist throughout the centuries. – Karl Menninger
All religions are the same: religion is basically guilt, with different holidays. – Cathy Ladman
God made so many different kinds of people. Why would he allow only one way to serve him? – Martin Buber
Also on this day: “Do you feel lucky?” – In 1836, Samuel Colt received a patent for his new revolver.
Gas Tax – In 1919, the first gas tax in the US was instituted.
Cut Off – In 1570, Pope Pius V excommunicated Queen Elizabeth I.
Battle Stations – In 1942, Los Angeles was under fire.
Sea Change – In 1933, the USS Ranger was launched.