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Kristijonas Donelaitis in art

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Lutheran pastor Kristijonas Donelaitis, the most prominent and, in essence, the first Lithuanian poet, was born on January 1, 1714 in the village of Lazdynėliai (Lasdinehlen, no longer in existence; Gumbinė (Gumbinnen) parish, Lithuania Minor; now Gusev district, Kaliningrad region, Russia.)

In 17311736 Donelaitis studied at the Königsberg Cathedral School, in 1736–1740 he was a student at the Königsberg University's Faculty of Theology, where he attended a seminar for Lithuanian studies.  In 1740–1742 Donelaitis was school cantor (a teacher and the head of the school choir) in Stalupėnai (Stallupönen); in 17421743, rector (headmaster) of the Stalupėnai school.  On October 21, 1743 he was ordained and appointed to the Lutheran parish of Tolminkiemis (Tollmingkehmen), of which he was pastor until his death in 1780.  On October 11, 1744 Donelaitis married Anna Regina Ohlefant (d. 1795), the widow of a school rector; the couple had no children.  Apart from his primary duties, which helped him to get know the material and spiritual life of his peasant parishers, Donelaitis was involved in construction, mechanical works and gardening. In Tolminkiemis, he renovated the parsonage and built a new brick church, a school, and a shelter for clerical widows.  Donelaitis was known to construct physical devices (barometers etc.) and musical instruments (harpsichords, pianos).  He also wrote the poem The Seasons (Metai), fables in Lithuanian and short poems in German.  At the end of his life, in 1775, he became embroiled in litigation with the tenant of the royal estate (Amtmann) in Tolminkiemis concerning separation of peasant, church and royal lands, wherein he represented the church and peasantry; the compromise settlement was achieved only after Donelaitis' death (1790).

Kristijonas Donelaitis passed away on February 18, 1780 in Tolminkiemis (Gumbinė district, Lithuania Minor; the present Chistye Prudy, Kalinigrad region,  Russia). He is buried in the Tolminkiemis church.



A map of the suroundings of Gumbinė 1912.


Königsberg city plan. In: Hartknoch, Christoph (1644–1687). Alt- und Neues Preussen oder Preussischer Historien zwey Theile ... – Franckfurt und Leipzig : in Verlegung Martin Hallervorden, 1684.


The University of Königsberg, 19th c.


Consignatio Studiosorum Theologiae … : [Manuscript]. – [Königsberg], 1735–1829. – 169 leaves. – Manuscript original of the document. – Ger., Lat. lang. – (Historical decrees of Lithuania Minor. – 1585-1944; Königsberg documents. – 15991944.).
Student register book of the Königsberg University's Theology Faculty, Kristijonas Donelaitis is mentioned on leaf 8.
MMNLL RKRS, F103-453
Catalogus Bibliothecae Academiae Regiomontanae : [Catalogue of the Königsberg University Library]. –  A bound 18th-century manuscript book, in German. – 160 leaves.
The University of Königsberg (Pol., Królewiec; Lat., Regiomontium; Lith., Karaliaučius) or Albertina (derived from the founder's name), which existed in 1544–1945, was one of the oldest and most renowned universities of Central Europe. Kristijonas Donelaitis studied there at the Faculty of Theology in 1736–1740. He learned theology, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French and music. Since 1723, the Faculty of Theology of Königsberg University had hosted a practical seminar in Lithuanian studies. It was attended, among others, by Donelaitis, who used this venue to inform himself both about old and newly-published Lithuanian books. The young man left Königsberg, having attained higher education and retaining a deep cultural and spiritual connection with his nation.
WLLAS RS, F15-266


The Tolminkiemis church.
Kristijonas Donelaitis was the pastor of the Tolminkiemis parish from 1743 until the end of his life. His efforts were instrumental in constructing a new school and a shelter for clerical widows, in rebuilding the parsonage and the church. Donelaitis held services and preached sermons on Sundays and holidays in two languages: in the morning, in German; in the afternoon, in Lithuanian. On February 18, 1780, Donelaitis was buried in the Tolminkiemis church.
The Tolminkiemis parsonage. – 1985.
In 1743–1780, Donelaitis lived in this house. Here he wrote his immortal poem "The Seasons".
Decrees for Kristijonas Donelaitis' appointment to Tolminkiemis. – 1743. – Manusrcipt, in German. – A copy.
The original is kept in the Prussian Privy State Archives, GStA PK, XX. HA EM abt., 55 d., no. 915.
WLLAS RS, F27-133
Donelaitis' requests to assign an adjunct pastor to Tolminkiemis. – 1779–1780. Manuscript, in German. – A copy.
The original is kept in the Prussian Privy State Archives, GStA PK, XX. HA EM abt., 55 d., no. 920.
WLLAS RS, F27-131
A decree for the support of Donelaitis' widow in Tolminkiemis. – 1789 04 25. – Manuscript, in German. –  A copy.
The original is kept in the Prussian Privy State Archives, GStA PK, Sign. XX. HA EM abt., 55 d., no. 919.
A pastor's widow in Prussia was routinely granted one ubas (21–42 ha) of land. She was entitled either to using this land free of charge or to renting it. Widows lived in a house built near the church especially for their needs. A widows' shelter in Tolminkiemis was referred to as early as the mid-17th century. Through Donelaitis' efforts, a new wooden building was constructed in 1764. The poet's widow, Anna Regina, lived in this shelter for 15 years.
WLLAS RS, F27-136

Most credit for publishing sources on Donelaitis' life and manuscripts should be accorded to Leipzig University professor Franz Oskar Tetzner (1863–1919) by virtue of his articles in the journal Altpreussische Monatsschrift (Königsberg). As he was not aware of the existence of the documents exhibited here, they have stayed outside the scope of vision of Lithuanian researchers. The originals of the documents are held in the Prussian Privy State Archives.


Ant amžino Atminimo Kr. Donelaiczio, didziojo Lietuvininko. Prologas. –  In: Lietuviška Zeitunga. 1900, nr. 2. – In Lithuanian.
A first attempt to commemorate the memory of Kristijonas Donelaitis was made in the late 19th century at his homeland. At that time, the life and work of the poet had already generated a significant interest. His biographer, Dr. Franz Oskar Tetzner, 1863–1919) made an arrangement with E. von Below, squire of Lazdynėliai, and on April 8, 1896, a memorial stone in memory of Donelaitis was consecrated at von Below's garden in Lazdynėliai. This celebration was marked by the recitation of the present poem, written by Dr. F. O. Tetzner and translated into Lithuanian by Georg Sauerwein ("Girėnas", 1831–1904).
WLLAS RS, F255-1560, lap. 13.
The memorial stone.
In: Der Pfarrerdichtervon Tollmingkehmen und seine Zeit / gesammelt und aufgeschrieben von Lutz Wenau. – Lilienthal : Selbstverlag, 1996.

Tolminkiemis, 2011. Photo by Sigitas Narbutas