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The Mosque of the Tatars

Vinksnupiai Mosque

Vinksnupiai Mosque is a no longer existing Tatar Mosque in the village of Vinksnupiai, Vilkaviskis district, near the old Tatar cemetery. The foundations of the mosque, as well as the Tatar cemetery, are located just 500 m from the Vinksnupiai manor, where young trees are clearly visible from the courtyard of the former foundation area.

In the past, the area was famous for its Muslims, who built their house of worship, the Vinksnupiai Mosque. The mosque was similar to the Krušinėnai Mosque in Poland (The Wooden Mosque of Kruszyniany, Poland). The remains of the mosque’s foundations are still visible to this day.

The mosque was a wooden, rectangular 9 x 7 m building, standing on the edge of an unnamed stream that flowed away from Vilkabaliai. The outer walls of the mosque, which were unheated in winter, were plastered with boards. Daylight penetrated the mosque through small windows in the roof. The mosque was divided into women’s and men’s rooms by a longitudinal partition. The rooms had different entrances. The women’s room was on the left side of the main door to the mosque from the Vinksnupiai manor. The three-pitched roof was covered with red tiles, with miniature turrets at the ends and a crescent moon crowning the small minaret.

The first Tatar Mosque in Vinksnupiai was built with the money of the Baranowski family, not out of duty but for religious reasons. But in the 19th century it fell into such disrepair that in 1819 the State Commission for Religions and General Education of the Kingdom of the Polish Congress considered the possibility of restoring it. Funds were donated by Tatar families. The provincial government has provided wood. The Administrative Council allocated 2000 gold coins for the restoration of the mosque. In 1821, an additional 3604 gold coins were added from the Catholic Church Restoration Fund.  The community decided to build a new brick mosque in 1859 and commissioned its design. The Kalvarija County Council, of which the Tatar Juozapas Ulanas was a member, took care of receiving funds from the state Treasury. In 1863, the government agreed to cover half of the costs. However, the deputy of the Kingdom of Poland did not approve of the decision and ordered to settle for parish funds.

Collection of donations began in 1872, and in 1904 the governor-general of Warsaw informed the minister of the interior that the community of Vinksnupiai intends to renovate the wooden mosque, build a parish house, a bridge, enlarge the cemetery, and for this purpose asks for a permit to collect donations in Kaunas, Vilnius, Minsk, the Kazan Governorate, Moscow, and Smolensk. No information about the size of the parish or the number of members has been preserved.

As Eglė Ročkaitė (VMU) points out in her master’s thesis “The Architecture of Lithuanian Tatar Wooden Mosques”, the nature of the construction of Lithuanian Tatar cult buildings in the 19th century was determined by various regulations of the Russian government. Mosques could be built if the number of male parishioners was sufficient. Muslim temples were allowed to be built in places (parishes), also known as jemiats, with a population of more than 200 men. For some time, insufficient numbers of worshippers often became a pretext for the authorities to deny the building or rebuilding of a mosque.

The renovated Tatar Mosque was painted in the 19th century by Polish artist K. Guralski. The drawing shows the edge of the cemetery, the courtyard, the side entrance to the mosque, the square tower, the crescent moon at the top of the dome and the curve of the altar in the back wall. The three-pitched roof, covered with tiles, has miniature turrets at the ends.

Tatar community

It is known that during the times of the Tsar, the Vinksnupiai mosque served not only Vilkaviskis, but also the Seinai region. In the Tsar’s empire, Seinai belonged to the Tatar parish of Vinksnupiai. When Lithuania and Poland were separated by the border, the mosque only served the faithful of Vilkaviskis and Sakiai.

A small Tatar community existed in Vinksnupiai throughout the inter-war period, and there was also a mosque, which, in the opinion of the researchers, was not exactly like the one in the popular drawing by the Polish artist. However, like the community itself, it has been irretrievably banished from the area.

The imams of the Vinksnupiai mosque are Juzef Lebed (1789-1801), Mustafa Bazarewski (1819-1830), Abraham Baranowski (1847), Abraham Bogdanovich (1859-1871), Leon Chalecki (1897-1915) and John Chaleckas (1916-1944). The last imam of the mosque, John Chaleckas, was killed by an aerial bomb.

The spiritual centre of the community is gone, and so are the Tatars. The nameless stream that used to flow through the village is gone: its course has been straightened by a drainage ditch.

During his expeditions (around 1970), the teacher S. Šileika photographed the stone outline of the mosque’s foundations near the Vinksnupiai cemetery. Now one can only imagine that it is still there.

The Mosque of the Tatars in photos

The foundations of the mosque

The Mosque of the Tatars in publications