ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 2015 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.

Volume 61, No.1 - Spring  2015
Editor of this issue: Almantas Samalavičius

The Dubingiai Microregion:
The Radvila Family Ancestral Home


Note: This article was prepared as part of the project entitled: Lietuvos valstybės ištakos Dubingių mikroregiono tyrimų duomenimis (
The beginnings of Lithuanian statehood according to the exploration of the Dubingiai microregion), Operational Programme For Human Resources Development 2007–13, Priority 3 Strengthening Capacities of Researchers, Measure VP1-3.1-ŠMM-07-V Support to Research of Scientists and Other Researchers (Global Grant), project No VP1-3.1- ŠMM-07-K-01-037, financed by funds from the European Union.

ALBINAS KUNCEVIČIUS is an archaeologist and professor at Vilnius University. He is the author of several books, most recently Lietuvos viduramžių archeologija (Lithuanian Medieval Archaeology), Vilnius, 2005.
RIMVYDAS LAUŽIKAS is an archaeologist and assistant professor at Vilnius University, where he is the head of the Museology department.

The article presents the results of the 2003 to 2014 scholarlyinvestigation of the Dubingiai microregion, including one of the most significant archeological finds in recent years in Lithuania—the discovery of the Radvila family burial plot. The Dubingiai microregion, which could have extended for a distance of ten kilometers, began forming during the Old Iron Age (from the first to fourth centuries ad). At that time, Lake Asveja formed a natural boundary dividing one territory from another. In the Middle Iron Age (fifth to tenth centuries ad), three stable small microregions formed around the lake, opposite its crossings. At the beginning of the fifteenth century, Vytautas, Grand Duke of Lithuania, created the first artificial territorial-administrative unit—Dubingiai Parish, which was created on the basis of the old microregion. Later, this territory fell into the hands of the Radvila family, who built a masonry palace, rebuilt the old church, and prepared a family burial site there. The palace and church had completely disappeared by the eighteenth century. Archeological field work was conducted at Dubingiai, during which the palace and church were excavated and the burial site of the Radvilas discovered.


Dubingiai is a small town in Lithuania, in the southern part of Molėtai County, about forty kilometers from Vilnius, next to the longest lake in Lithuania, Lake Asveja, also known as Dubingiai. Along with its branches, Lake Asveja extends for more than twenty-nine kilometers. There are six islands in the lake; the site of the ancient castle of Dubingiai is located on the largest, Pilis Island, across from the town of Dubingiai. The natural and cultural treasures of the area are protected by the Asveja Regional Park, founded in 1992. 

Systematic archeological research on the ancient Dubingiai Castle site began in 2003. In 2004, on the site of the former church, through the combined efforts of archeologists, anthropologists, historians, and art historians, the remains of the Radvila (Radziwiłł in Polish) family were identified. In 2006-2007, the entire site of the former churches was investigated. The uncovered foundations of the Evangelical Reformed Church were restored and preserved and a new crypt for the Radvila remains constructed, along with a new sarcophagus and a granite tombstone with an epitaph. During the celebrations of the millennium of Lithuania’s name, on September 5, 2009, the Republic of Lithuania ceremoniously reburied the recovered remains of the members of the Radvila family. The site of the Radvila Palace on Pilis Island was investigated from 2005 to 2010; the result of scholarly investigations from 2003 to 2010, including those on the former church site, the former palace, and the Radvila family remains, were published in the collective monographs Radvilų tėvonija Dubingiuose (The Radvila Patrimony in Dubingiai) and Radvilų rūmai Dubingiuose (The Radvila Palace in Dubingiai).

2011 saw the initiation of a large-scale scholarly research project called: “The Beginnings of the Lithuanian State via the Dubingiai Microregion’s Research Data.”1 The project aims to use archeological data to analyze the Lithuanian state as a political unit and the process of forming the Lithuanian nation and society. 

This article presents detailed results of the 2003-2014 scholarly investigations in the Dubingiai microregion, including one of the most significant recent archeological finds in Lithuania—the burial spot of the Radvila family.

The Formation of the Dubingiai Microregion and the Establishment of the Radvila Family 

The Dubingiai microregion began forming in the Old Iron Age (the first through fourth century ad, also known as  the Roman Iron Age).2 However, the mobility of the inhabitants during this period led to an unstable territorial structure. In the Middle Iron Age (fifth through ninth century ad), when, owing to the growth in the number of inhabitants and the application of agriculture based on cultivation using two-crop rotation, the mobility of living sites was reduced and a stable territorial structure with a long-term network of roads began to form. We could call the territorial structure of this period a minor microregion. It was an area, walkable in a day, of community living and the stockpiling of empirical experience. Based on the speed of travel and research on the understanding of distance in legal documents, it can be deduced that the diameter of a minor microregion was about ten kilometers. 

In analyzing the natural and geographic data of the site, it can be proposed that from the viewpoint of the pattern of settlement and human interactions, a lake as long as Dubingiai’s essentially fulfilled the role of a river. It was a natural boundary, a barrier separating one territory from another, encouraging the inhabitants to settle the shores along the lake and seek communication passages across the “barrier.” Consequently, in the Middle Iron Age, three stable minor microregions formed in the vicinity of Lake Dubingiai opposite the lake crossings, which we have named after their locations: Asveja (opposite the contemporary town of Dubingiai), Baluošai (opposite Baluošai Lake), and Lakaja (at the northern part of Lakaja Creek). The centers of these possible ancient minor microregions could be associated with place names arising from compound Lithuanian proper names, for example, the mention of curia Girdemanthen (known to this day as the Jagomantas hydronym) in Hermann von Wartberge’s chronicle describing a 1373 expedition.3

In the eleventh through thirteenth centuries, the ox plow and three-crop rotation allowed the cultivation of the most difficult and fertile land surrounding Lake Dubingiai in what is now the area of the villages of Voroniai, Laumikoniai, and Ciūniškiai. For this reason, the Asveja minor microregion that had formed naturally at this site during the Middle Iron Age would have had an advantage over the other microregions and dominated them economically; although all three minor microregions lasted until the fourteenth century, when they are mentioned in the Livonian Order’s descriptions of their expeditions. The description of the 1373 expedition is particularly thorough in regard to place names, mentioning eight permanent and fifteen destroyed territorial units in eastern Lithuania, from which it is possible to locate Asveja, Dubingiai, and Aždubingė (Uždubingė) in the vicinity of Dubingiai Lake, connecting them with the corresponding minor microregions mentioned above.4

Because of the attacks by the Livonian Order, these microregions experienced a drastic decline in inhabitants and economic potential. The account of the 1334 expedition of the Livonian Order to Dubingiai and Šešuoliai mentions the death of 1,200 Lithuanians of both sexes; a thousand captives (not counting the dead) are mentioned in the 1373 expedition’s account; six hundred captives are mentioned in the account of the 1375 expedition.5 These numbers are undoubtedly exaggerated, but even if they were several times smaller, the loss to the destroyed territories during these expeditions must have been huge. This shock must have encouraged the three microregions to consolidate around the economically strongest Asveja microregion, forming the natural major Dubingiai microregion. The major microregion was made up of several minor ones and was a space with a center, in which the edges were separated from the center by a distance that could be  covered twice in a day, that is, to travel to the microregion’s center and back again, leaving enough time to take care of necessary work at the center. It was probably about twenty kilometers in diameter.

At the beginning of the fifteenth century, Lithuanian Grand Duke Vytautas created the first artificial territorial administrative unit—the Dubingiai Parish. It was created on the basis of the old Dubingiai microregion, so its boundaries can be established by research on the parish’s area. During this period, there was also an attempt to consolidate the artificial state administrative-territorial division, called the Dubingiai pavietas (district), by building a government building at the castle site and a residence for a tijūnas (administrator) in the village of Ciūniškiai. In that period, however, secular territorial-administrative units differed as crucially from their contemporary religious units as from today’s territorial-administrative units. It can be asserted that, in essence, before the 1547 Volok Reform and the territorial reform of 1564-1565, a territorial-administrative unit was understood primarily as a judicial, military, and economic unit, not as a contiguous geographical territory; it was the people and domains belonging to one owner (later including many villages and estates).

At the end of the conflict with the German crusaders and the beginning of the “Pax Lituana” period, Dubingiai’s defensive importance declined. The death of Dubingiai’s patron, Grand Duke Vytautas, could have contributed to this, along with the strengthening of nearby major microregions established on better trade routes. The fifteenth-century growth of Švenčioniai, which also had a church funded by Vytautas and was located on the Vilnius-Braslaw road, and the private dukedom of the Giedraitis family (Giedroyć in Polish), the villages of Giedraičiai and Videniškiai, established on the Vilnius- Riga road, pushed Dubingiai to second-rate status. On the other hand, during the second half of the fifteenth century, through endowments, benefices, and land purchases, church lands and the domains of various noble families (the private holdings of the Sakas, Giedraitis, Radvila, and other families) began to appear in the major Dubingiai microregion. 

Among the noble families in the Dubingiai microregion, the Radvilas were the most successful in expanding their private land holdings. Perhaps the earliest Radvila holding in the microregion was the village of Berža (probably located in the vicinity of today’s Berža Lake) acquired by Radvila Astikaitis (Radziwiłł Ościkowicz) in 1446. In 1475, Radvila Astikaitis had a dispute with the Giedraitis family over Gudeikiai,6 and in Mikalojus Radvila’s 1482 privilege, the Upninkai church was allotted ten poods of honey from Dubingiai.7 Between 1508 and 1523, the Radvila family finally took possession of Dubingiai (the castle site and Ciūniškiai). A series of gifts of people and domains were presented to Jurgis Radvila (Jerzy Radziwiłł) between 1510 and 1523,8 and in 1528, in an inventory of the family’s estates, Dubingiai is mentioned indisputably as within the Radvila domain.9

The consolidation of the Radvila family expansion in the Dubingiai microregion that began in the late fifteenth century and beginning of the sixteenth continued. In time, the Radvilas added the remaining lands of Dubingiai’s fiefdoms, as well as markedly expanded their territory to the east, creating a geographically more or less unified domain on the scale of a latifundium. In the middle of the sixteenth century, when Radvila received the title of grand duke from the Holy Roman Empire, Dubingiai became the family’s private dukedom.

The Radvila Palace in Dubingiai 

The development of the Radvila palace, like the church described later, can be divided into four periods, which can be correlatively called: Lithuanian Grand Dukes (fifteenth century); Mikalojus (Mikołaj) Radvila the Red (sixteenth century); Jonušas (Janusz) and Kristupas (Krzysztof) Radvila (first half of the seventeenth century); and Boguslavas (Bogusław) and Liudvika Karolina (Ludwika Karolina) Radvila (second half of the seventeenth century).

Dubingiai. Excavation site. Areal View.

The first indirect written documentation of the former representative buildings of the Dubingiai Castle site reaches back to the beginning of the fifteenth century when, according to Jan Długosz, Lithuanian Grand Duke Vytautas invited the Polish king, Jogaila (Władysław II Jagiełło), and his entire royal retinue to Dubingiai and later, in 1420, wrote a letter to the grand master of the Teutonic Order. Without a doubt, there were feasts prepared at Dubingiai, and it is likely, by that time, representative castle buildings, or at least a hunting manor, had been built there. The fact that Grand Duke Vytautas wrote the letter in February is also indirect evidence of a castle at Dubingiai suitable for a ruler’s winter quarters. 

We do not have direct written sources about the old castle at Dubingiai at the end of the fifteenth century and beginning of the sixteenth, so life in it can be recreated only through archeological evidence. In the layer of black dirt of this period, dated to the fifteenth century, over nine hundred fragments of pottery have been found, among which traditional modeled (pierced) ceramics dominate. They contain a great deal of ground-up rock and were roughly modeled, formed of wide strips of clay, and fired in an oxidizing environment. The majority of the pots have rounded sides and small necks and are impressed with small horizontal wavy lines. Some ceramics are decorated with a circular stamp. Among these ceramics, which are characteristic of the fifteenth century, only three small fragments of the so-called Gothic or black town-type ceramic were found in the layer of black earth: a bowl decorated with a circular stamp, a narrow-sided pitcher, and part of the bottom of a bowl. The ceramic dishes mentioned, at least the bowl, which was also fired in a reducing atmosphere and has nearly no additives to its clay, could have been imported. Artifacts found there, including a stylus (a writing implement characteristic of the Middle Ages), a bone chess piece (a king or queen), arrowheads, a Type III coin from the reign of Casimir IV Jagiellon (1427-1492), a stone spindle, and a bone amulet decorated with a geometric motif, show that, by the fifteenth century, this site supported both intensive habitation and an elite culture for its time. 

Starting in the middle of the sixteenth century, we have somewhat more written information about the former buildings and palace of Dubingiai Castle. On November 9, 1547, Barbora Radvilaitė (Barbara Radziwiłłówna), the wife of Lithuanian Grand Duke Sigismund II Augustus, was living there following their secret marriage. From her letters to her husband and king, we learn she was living in a masonry building wellprotected from the waterside. The building was probably old, because, when Barbora Radvilaitė stayed there, one of the basement arches collapsed: Mikolojus Radvila the Red, in a letter to Sigismund Augustus of November, 1547, explained that this misfortune, when the basement arches collapsed just in front of the door to the room where Barbora Radvilaitė was staying, occurred because of “my father’s old officers’ poor upkeep of the castle.” Archeological investigation revealed the castle’s older section and basements were apparently rebuilt at that time, i.e., about the middle of the sixteenth century, while the south wall of the castle was reinforced with buttresses.

During the time of Mikalojus Radvila the Red, the castle was not large and nearly square in plan, around seventeen meters east to west and around fifteen meters north to south. Based on inventories, we know it consisted of two stories, with basements and walls in Gothic style without exterior stucco. The building’s main facade was oriented to the south, i.e., towards the now-vanished church. The servants’ quarters and the stairs to the castle were on the north side. Items from this building uncovered during field work include: two basements connected by a passageway, with a stairway into the basement at the building’s north side; the location of a grand stairway leading to the castle’s upper floor; a section of flooring, paved with ceramic blocks, on the ground floor; and at the northeast corner, the remains of an annex, approximately four meters (north-south) by nine meters (east-west), above a cylindrical basement arch; presumably a guardhouse, it was apparently used in later times as a kitchen. Above the basement rooms, survive the first floor, made of 21.0 by 17.8 by 5.4 centimeter unglazed ceramic pavers, and part of the walls, which at the ground floor of the premises range from 1.0 to 1.5 meters thick. The first floor of this castle was entered via a grand stairway located in the palace’s northwest corner. Only fragments of the stairway’s steps survive; it is probable the steps were covered with wooden boards. A fragment of a pine board, laid across the stairway’s full width, was found on the second step; in all, seven steps were found.

At that time, there were two basements in the castle. The southeast basement, labeled Basement No. 1 during the research, was 7.6 meters long (north-south); its interior width about 4.9 meters; its height from the ground to the top of the cylindrical arch about 4.7 meters. The remains of a window were found in the wall; its width was about 0.8 meters, its height about 1.0 to 1.2 meters. Two decorative arched-niches were found in each of this basement’s south and north walls, whose height and width were both about 0.9 meters, and their depth 0.2 meters. The niches were located about a meter above the level of the floor. In the middle of the west wall of this basement was an entry from Basement No. 1 to Basement No. 2., about 1.6 meters wide and 2.8 meters high. In the entrance was a wooden door, where only the site of a 15- to 17-centimeter- wide door jamb remained. The entire basement was filled with substantial ruins, in which occasional finds were made, mostly pieces of tile and fragments of household ceramics. Household ceramics of the sixteenth and seventeenth century dominated, most of them flat tiles decorated with the Radvila crest, frequently with the initials “I” and “R” (Jonušas Radvila). The more interesting tiles dated from the first half of the sixteenth century to the middle of the seventeenth. These included an unglazed cornice tile with a fragment of a “rabbit hunt” and concave tile fragments decorated with scenic drawings and mermaids. There were a large number of glass artifacts, among which, besides fragments of stained glass, was a particularly well-preserved decorative glass goblet. Coins were discovered on the basement floor: the Steponas Batoras (Stefan Batory) shilling, struck in 1584-1585, or the Jonas Kazimieras (Jan Kazimierz) Lithuanian shilling, show the basement was still in use and not in ruins during the second half of the seventeenth century. At the center of the basement floor was a small stove, whose lower part was paved with brick. The stove was 1.03 meters long and 0.67 meters wide; its firebox was on the south side. The stove could have been used without a chimney; at the time of firing, the smoke would enter the living space and leave through the windows; the heated stones in the stove could dry the living quarters for several days. Apparently, this stove was only used in periods of cold and damp, when a warmer temperature and a drier atmosphere were wanted in the basement. When the palace inventory and the archeological finds are compared, it can be asserted that the palace storehouse could have been located in this basement. 

The second palace basement was on the west. Its two chambers were divided by a one-meter thick wall; undoubt31 edly, both areas were constructed and used at the same time. Basement No. 2 can be identified with the wine and food storage area (piwnica) mentioned in written sources. In this site of the former living quarters on the first floor, whose width was 6.6 meters and length 8.0 meters in a north-south direction, some floor pavers, blocks about 18 or 19 by 21 by 5 centimeters square, survived in places above the former arch of the basement. Under this chamber is also a fairly well-preserved basement, about seven by eight meters in area. There was a window in its north wall as well; although considerably destroyed, the remains of a corner formed with blocks placed on a slant is visible. The basement is filled with ruins, but because of the danger of the arches collapsing, a full investigation was delayed until the following season. Only preparation work was undertaken in 2007, when the restorers fortified and reinforced the cracked basement arches. On the north side, the basements had a common entrance from the yard that led to the western basement; it was possible to enter the eastern basement only by first going through the yard entrance and then the interior doorway in the basement’s partition wall. 

Comparative research allows us to assert that the old building’s architecture is reminiscent of a castle dungeon of the Middle Ages. It had an essentially square building plan, with two large basements and two floors above, both with analogous two-room building plans. The watchtower next to the building allowed access to the outside from the building’s second floor. It can be concluded, hypothetically, that the early architecture of the building was formed by rebuilding a masonry dungeon, which was the first structure of the castle created by Grand Duke Vytautas. Based on a stylistic architectural cartogram of the palace’s remains, done by the historic architect Robertas Zilinskas, there was apparently a thorough reinforcement of the old building at that time, the middle of the sixteenth century, after the collapse of the palace’s base32 ment arch mentioned in the written sources. A buttress to reinforce the southern wall of the palace was built next to the south wall, next to the guard tower, which may have been used earlier as a kitchen as well. In the northeast corner, a stairway was added—a separate exit, designed for utilitarian purposes, to the northern household yard. An outhouse was built next to the palace’s northeast corner, next to the new stairway, i.e., a toilet and a drainage tank in the shape of a small tower. As a toilet, it was connected with the halls on the first and second floors. In the northeast corner, there was also a masonry addition that may have been used as a tower at the beginning of the palace’s exploitation.

Apparently, there was no substantial construction work done on the site of the castle from Mikolojus Radvila the Red’s death in 1588 until the very beginning of the seventeenth century. The first half of the seventeenth century could be called Dubingiai’s greatest period of expansion when, at the instigation of Jonušas Radvila (1579-1620), a new masonry Renaissance- style Evangelical Reformed Church was built around the year of his death. Next to the church, a masonry parsonage was built. After Jonušas died, his brother Kristupas (1585-1649) continued his work. It was Kristupas Radvila’s initiative to reconstruct and enlarge the palace (as the archeological research shows, the building’s area nearly doubled), and the church’s basement was rebuilt as the Radvila family mausoleum. 

In an attempt to understand this period’s architecture and the structure of the former Radvila estate at Dubingiai, seventeenth century documents—the inventories—can be used. In the earliest (1634) inventory, three basic parts of the estate are delineated: the residence designed for the Radvila family and their guests, an administrators’ residence, and the household. In the 1651 inventory, it is written that the residential part of the estate was made up of a masonry palace of two sections. The old part of the palace consisted of two floors with a basement (housing the larder, storehouse, and jail) and a tower. The first level of the palace was not inhabited: the food stores, pantry, and kitchen were located there. The second floor was the residence. There were two large rooms with tiled stoves and a few smaller rooms. The new section was one-story high, with two residential rooms and auxiliary quarters. The entirety of the household buildings consisted of the administrators’ house with a kitchen, a newly constructed kitchen building, a sauna, a brewhouse, a granary, three stables, and an icehouse installed at the foot of the hill. 

In 2008, the new residential part of the palace, built at the beginning of the seventeenth century, was investigated. The time of the addition’s construction was clearly shown by a Dutch tobacco pipe found in a foundation pit next to its south wall. An engraved inscription on its mouthpiece reads “IONAS ” (the letters “N” and “S” are on opposite sides) and “1633.” Another part of this mouthpiece was found in another spot of the building’s foundation pit. This part is decorated with an ornament of moons and royal lilies. This imported, and for its time rather expensive pipe, clearly shows the foundations were dug and walls laid around 1633.

The new building’s length was about 11.5 meters (eastwest); its width about 10.5 meters. The interior area of the western quarters, a hall with an anteroom, was 38.4 and 17.9 square meters, respectively, while the second hall and anteroom, which were next to the old palace, were 18.5 and 7.5 square meters. The addition’s exterior walls were only about 0.75 to 0.85 meters thick. The floor of the addition’s residential quarters was covered in square, unglazed, clay-colored ceramic pavers, whose dimensions were 27.5 by 27.5 by 5.0 centimeters. The floor of the auxiliary quarters was covered in pavers. 

The windows of the living quarters were made of stained glass, mentioned in the inventories; during the archeological research, a number of parts of these windows, a green glass about 0.2 centimeters thick and mostly of a triangular form, were found. Window glass of this type was assembled into specially manufactured metal frames, most often made of lead. Over ten examples of these were also found during the research. It is probable that the ceilings of this part of the palace were wooden, and the roof was covered in flat tiles; a number of both fragments and whole tiles survived in the palace ruins. 

The addition, like the old palace, was entered from the north; a 1.4-meter-wide entrance in the northern wall survives. The entrance led to the anteroom, which led to the hall. The threshold of the door, about 1.3 meters wide, was covered in mortar. There was a fireplace in the anteroom and a joint stove firebox for a tiled stove that stood in the hall’s northeast corner beyond the masonry partition between the hall and the anteroom. There was no direct passageway between the old palace and the addition, and the their floor levels differed by almost a meter. Apparently, this allowed the authors of the palace inventories to describe them as two seemingly separate masonry buildings of the palace. 

One of the most interesting elements of the palace addition was the site of the former tiled stove found in the anteroom hall. At that time, stoves were built in several levels: the bottom was an elongated rectangle, while the top was either four- or many-sided. They were separated from each other, and from the foundation, by ceramic tile. The residential rooms—bedrooms, dining rooms, and halls—were warmed by decorative tiled stoves, while a more ordinary stove, frequently of unglazed tile, stood in the auxiliary quarters. Stoves of that time were most often kindled from the hallway so smoke would not enter the clean rooms.

In the summer of 1655, when the army of the Duchy of Moscow occupied the entire eastern part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the Dubingiai area was also devastated. According to the inventories and the archeological record, two stages of the residence’s evolution can be discerned: before and after the occupation, known historically as the “Deluge.” During the war, the masonry palace was so devastated it was no longer fit for habitation; most probably, it was Boguslavas Radvila who saw to it that the old wooden section of the residence, the guest house, was rebuilt into a palace, equipping it with a basement and more rooms. 

In the eighteenth century, after the 1695 death of the last representative of the Dubingiai and Biržai branch of the Radvila family, the margrave of Brandenburg and duchess of Neuburg, Liudvika Karolina Ravilaitė, the decline of the Dubingiai duchy and its estate began. The Dubingiai estate was leased on security, passed from hand to hand, most often with the leaseholders concerned only with extracting the greatest and fastest profit, without investing capital to maintain or renovate the buildings. The neglected church and palace continued to fall into ruin. In the 1740 Dubingiai inventory, the masonry palace rooms were described as vaulted but empty, without windows or doors. The basements were probably still sound. 

Perhaps the last person to see the remains of the Dubingiai palace was Napoleon Orda, who documented the castle site from the opposite shore of Lake Asveja in 1878. His sketch, however, cannot be taken as an entirely reliable historical document. As a representative of the Romantic movement, Orda reworked somewhat the image of the Dubingiai ruins, even illuminating a level at the southwest corner of the building. Archeological research determined that not only was there no tower on the southwest side, but there was no household activity taking place there, since that cultural layer is either nonexistent or very sparse. 

The Church at the Dubingiai Site

The first church at Dubingiai was founded by Grand Duke Vytautas around 1420. From the fifteenth to the sixteenth century, funding for church lands ensued at the initiative of rulers and noblemen. It is known that Vytautas and, in 1449, Kazimieras Jogailaitis (Casimir Jagiellon) endowed the church in Dubingiai. The Dubingiai Church was also supported by local noblemen: in 1451, the owner of the Giedraitis estate, Povilas Kareiva, founded a retirement residence for priests not far from Molėtai Parish, in the village of Svobiškis; in 1478, the owner of the Bijutiškis estate, Nekrašas Eirudavičius’s widow, Ona, with her sons Bagdonas and Žygimantas, founded one in Bijutiškis village; and in 1542, Povilas Šimkovičius (and, according to some sources, Barbora and Kristupas Giedraitis) funded the so-called Grybiškiai or Bijutiškis retirement residence.

Excavations of former church building in Dubingiai.

Only a few finds discovered during the archeological dig at the site of the church can be linked to the fifteenth century. This includes tile fragments and a Vytautas Type II coin, a Kazimieras coin, Aleksandras (Alexander Jagiellon) denarii, probably from disturbed graves, as well as a spearhead, ax, and wallet. No portions of the foundation of the church built by Vytautas were found. All that can be assumed is that the first church did not have foundations bound with mortar. Individual foundation stones could have been removed during later construction or reused in the foundation of the second sixteenth-century church. 

The sixteenth century in Europe was a contradictory period. The Lutheran Protestants that appeared in Germany and the Evangelical Reformists (followers of Huldrych Zwingli and John Calvin) that appeared in Switzerland at the beginning of the sixteenth century raised a severe reaction from the Catholic Church. The children of the nobles of Lithuania, studying abroad, quickly took on new ideas. The Radvilas were no exception, and became the most powerful supporters of Protestantism in the grand duchy. Thanks to this family, the first Protestant Bible was translated and printed, and the act guaranteeing the rights of Protestants and Catholics confirmed. In 1547, the Radvilas, who had become Reichsfürsten of the Holy Roman Empire, consistently supported the principle of Quius regio, eius religio (whose realm, his religion), confirmed at the Peace of Augsburg, which meant every duke had the right to establish the religion he practiced in the areas he ruled. Relying on this principle, in 1565, Mikalojus Radvila the Red confiscated the Dubingiai Church from the Catholics and gave it to the Evangelical Reformists.10 This was probably the same little church, built by Vytautas in the name of the Holy Spirit, which clearly could not fulfill the new community’s needs. It can be assumed that it was at the initiative of Mikalojus Radvila the Red that the second wooden church, now an Evangelical Reformed Church, was built in Dubingiai. 

More finds are linked to the second sixteenth-century church. Several remnants of this church were found in the archeological dig, allowing a determination of its plan and dimensions. The foundations are of mortared brick and stone, 0.82 to 1.4 meters thick. In its architecture, the second church was a smaller wooden prototype of the third one, which wasn’t simply enlarged by exterior masonry, but possibly produced a similar interior structure, divided into two parts by stone pilasters. In addition, there were pilasters at the church’s corners. Only the general proportions of the church were changed, from square to rectangular; perhaps that was why the apse was built at a width similar to the old wooden church’s altar. The second wooden church, like the third, masonry one, could be described as Renaissance, because from 1577 to 1588, that style was not only the dominant, but the only architecture style in Lithuania. The second church’s floor was paved with 19.0 by 21.0 centimeter ceramic tiles. A burial crypt was discovered in the church. Most likely, the crypt’s arches were dismantled during the construction at the beginning of the seventeenth century and the interior of the crypt filled with dirt mixed with individual pieces of human bone and some funerary objects. It can be speculated that this is the first burial crypt in Dubingiai Church: Mikolajus Radvila the Red and the members of his family were buried there from 1577 to 1588. It was only later, when the masonry church was built in the 1830s, that their remains were moved to a new crypt in the masonry Renaissance-style apse. 

The first half of the seventeenth century could be called Dubingiai’s most prosperous time, when, at Jonušas Radvila’s initiative, a new masonry Renaissance-style Evangelical Reformed Church was built with a masonry parsonage next door. From written sources, it is known that this church had one tower, was plastered over, and roofed in tiles, like many other Evangelical Reformed churches of that period in Lithuania. The Radvilas had a particular fondness for this type of church. Religious buildings of a similar style were built on their estates at Nesvyžius, Koidanova, Biržai, Vilnius, Salamiestis, Papilys, and Nemunęlio Radviliškis. The inventories taken before the 1655 attack by the Moscovite army describe the church interior: a marble “Table of God” with seven marble columns, an epitaph in the same stone with a sculptural portrait of Mikalojus Radvila the Red, a large chandelier hung on a chain, a smaller chandelier, and a carved oak pulpit. The floor next to the “Table of God” was laid in black-and-white marble, the rest of the church in pavers. Ten windows are mentioned, carved oak double doors, and an arched crypt; above the church door was a beautiful carved choir loft. Portions of this church’s walls and foundations were visible above ground before the archeological dig. During the excavation, all of the third church’s foundation perimeter was uncovered and the foundations of the walls, apse, and tower investigated. The church’s exterior length was 34.7 meters, and its width opposite the nave was 16.8 meters. The church tower was 10.0 by 7.5 meters; the exterior of the nave was 17.8 by 16.8 meters, that of the apse, 12.0 by 9.4 meters. In most places, the foundation had been dismantled to the ground or lower; only part of the foundation’s inner grout was visible. The church’s foundation was massive. The depth of the masonry from the top reached 2.6 to 3.2 meters. The width at the top of the foundations of the tower and nave was 2.1 to 2.54 meters. Altogether, during the 2003-2007 archeological investigations in the vicinity of Dubingiai’s former church, 137 surviving graves were discovered, as well as remains from no less than 321 disturbed graves. 

Around 1621 to 1627, at Kristupas Radvila’s initiative, a burial pantheon for the Radvila family was established. A burial crypt was built for this purpose, marble sarcophagi ordered, and the remains of Mikalojus Radvila the Red and Elžbieta Šidlovecka (Elżbieta Szydłowiecka) moved there. During the first half of the seventeenth century, the following members of the Radvila family were buried beneath Dubingiai’s Evangelical Reformed Church: Mikalojus Radvila (1575-1577), Mikalojus Radvila the Red’s grandson; Ana Sobkovna (Anna Sokowna- Radziwillowna; died 1578), the first wife of Kristupas Radvila Perkūnas (Krzysztof Mikołaj “the Thunderbolt” Radziwiłł); Elena Glebavičiutė (died 1583), the wife of Mikalojus Radvila (Radvila the Red’s son); Mikalojus Radvila the Red (1512-1584); his son Mikalojus Radvila (about 1546-1589) and grandson Jonušas Radvila (1579-1620); Mikalojus Radvila the Black (1515-1565) and his wife Elžbieta Šidloveckas (1533-1562).

In 1655, the Dubingiai church and palace were looted by the Russian army and the Radvila remains desecrated. Henrikas Estka wrote in a letter to Boguslavas Radvila on February 17, 1656: 

The messenger who returned from Dubingiai reported that everything on the estate was burned down, the buildings on the estate and the district, except for three villages the size of a valakas [about 50 acres], are entirely burned down, some of the subjects slaughtered, some driven to Moscow. The church’s marble table is broken into bits, the pulpit and the benches are all chopped up, the epithets scratched, windows broken out, the bell has been taken, and the bodies from the basement thrown about the entire church. The paseniūnis [overseer] collected them and carried them back to the basement.11 

After the war, the Radvilas were reburied in the church crypt and the church itself partially repaired. In 1686, however, it is mentioned that the church tower was in ruins and repairs urgently needed to the tower, the churchyard wall, the doors, and windows. Although it is known that, in 1687, Liudvika Karolina Radvilaitė donated funds to the Dubingiai Evangelical Reformed Church, it was only renovated in 1710. This did not improve the situation at the castle, however. The Great Northern War brought new disasters. During the war, the Radvila remains were hidden, probably in fear of further desecration. This is implied by the mention that, in 1734, Mykolas Kazimieras Radvila looked for but could not find the remains of the Biržai branch of the Radvila family buried at Dubingiai.12 By 1730, Dubingiai’s Evangelical Reformed community had virtually vanished. From 1710 to 1713, the church lost its status as a parish then became a branch of the Šilėnai and, finally, the Vilnius Parish. In 1730, after the community had vanished, a Catholic rector lived at the Reformed parsonage. In 1735, the church roof and its interior wooden construction were burned in a fire begun by a lightning strike. The building began to fall down. The Dubingiai Church is not mentioned in a 1754 list of the Evangelical Reformed churches of Poland and Lithuania.13 From 1768 to 1777, the church was described as old; the wall next to the great altar as leaning and partly collapsed, the arches fallen, and part of the roof thatched with straw; the church tower and pediment were still standing, and the churchyard wall, formerly of masonry, had collapsed to its foundations in many places. In the 1851 inventory by Zenon Malecki, the masonry constructions are described as mere ruins.

In 1939, when a tourist villa was under construction, a road was built to the castle. Gravel and bricks were taken from the site of the church. The author of this article saw approximately two hundred bricks nicely stacked in preparation for removal. Wagons full of gravel from the ruined basement were hauled through the church foundation. While removing the gravel, the church’s crypt was uncovered. The first archeological expedition to explore the site was arranged, and excavation took place in the territory of the Dubingiai Castle’s church. Specialists from the Vytautas Didžioji Cultural Museum, led by J. Lukoševičius, uncovered the location of the apse, found the arches of the basement below it, and documented them in drawings. A ring was found, along with a piece of marble and flat tiles. Human bones were mostly individual pieces. The surviving arches of the burial crypt were documented in expedition photographs and drawings.

The Radvila Burial Site 

In 2004, the burial site of the Radvilas at Dubingiai Castle was found while investigating the site of the former Evangelical Reformed Church. The forty burials investigated so far can be roughly divided into two groups. The first are undisturbed graves where the bones are in anatomical order, mostly those buried under the church floor. The second are burials disturbed during various construction projects, consisting of individual bones or partial skeletons. Among these burials, a specially built coffin found in the earth below the former “Table of God,” held the remains of eight individuals brought from elsewhere. The box, which contained only skulls, the long bones of arms and legs, and some individual pelvic bones or other larger bones, was only about 1.0 by 1.5 meters. There are no remains of children among the individual adult male and female bones, nor are there any objects included in the burial. The fact that not all the bones of an individual are included or deposited in anatomical order, plus the archeological finding that some bones were gnawed by rats before reburial (possible if they had not been buried in the earth, but in a sarcophagus or crypt), and the reburial’s hidden location, indicate that these remains, buried in the most honorable place in the church, were of particularly important people. Since we know the Radvilas built this church and were buried here in a specially ordered sarcophagus, as well as taking into consideration that no source mentions the remains of the Radvilas buried in Dubingiai were moved to other places in Lithuania, it is suspected the burial place found during the archeological investigation was where the remains of the Radvilas were reburied and hidden. Since no funerary objects were found in this grave to allow accurate dating or the identification of individuals, the only possible ways to confirm or deny their identities lie in anthropology, history, and art history, as well as chemical, DNA , and other tests. 

Historic and iconographic data provide much worthwhile information on the people mentioned, including their looks, height, and lifestyle, which may be decisive in identifying the remains. For example, historical data show that the only wife of a Radvila buried at Dubingiai, Mikalojus the Black’s wife, Elžbieta Šidlovecka, had four sons and four daughters. It is also known that, although Radvila the Red didn’t particularly complain about his health, Radvila the Black was rather heavy, suffered from gout, constantly complained of dental pain, etc. Incidentally, Radvila the Black died on May 28, 1565, when, according to his contemporaries, he had covered himself entirely in quicksilver (mercury) at the advice of a physician, to reduce the pain of gout. There is the June 10, 1565 letter of the papal nuncio Giovanni Francesco Commendone, in which he writes that Radvila did this himself, ignoring the warning of the physician: 

Shortly after the application, the pains that tormented him for an entire three days without interruption began, so that his eyes popped out, his ears and lips tore, then his sides expanded, and in the end split his head in two so that he died, abandoned by God. 

Anthropological data show there are, at a minimum, eight individuals in this burial: one male thirty to forty years old; one male forty to fifty years old; three males over fifty; one thirty- to forty-year-old female; and two females over fifty. One male was short and had an extremely stocky build. One woman was tall and thin; another had given birth many times. At least one male had a well-developed case of diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis (DIS H), frequently associated with type 2 diabetes and weight gain. Common peculiarities were also found: Four of the skulls (three men and one woman) were externally very similar, with large, broad faces, narrow noses, and extremely large eye sockets, but the biting surface of the teeth was uncharacteristic of Asiatic races. Distinct contrasts were observed among the ossifications of the sutures of the skulls (nearly complete ossification indicates old age) and the wear of the teeth (very little wear corresponds to either a young age or nourishment with well-processed and meaty food; the latter is confirmed by obvious calculus on the teeth). All of this evidence—the age of the individuals, the resemblances among some of them, the signs of continuous nourishment uncharacteristic of the ordinary population of that time—confirms the conjecture that the remains found during the dig could be associated with the Radvilas.

A later provisional comparison among the three skulls and the existing iconography, along with the historical information mentioned earlier and the particularities of the bones, allows the assertion that the following individuals are among the remains: 

Mikalojus Radvila the Red (1512-1584), Voivode of Vilnius, Chancellor and Grand Hetman of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania;

Mikalojus Radvila the Black (February 4, 1515 in Nesvyžius to May 28, 1565, in Vilnius, Lukiškės), Voivode of Vilnius, Grand Marshall and Chancellor of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania; 

Elžbieta Šidlovecka-Radvilienė (1533-1562 Vilnius, Lukiškės), wife of Mikalojus Radvila the Black; daughter of Castellan of Kraków and Chancellor of Karūna Krisupas Šidloveckis (Krzysztof Szydłowiecki) and Zofija Targoviska (Zofia Targowicka); 

Mikalojus Radvila (c.1546-1589, buried in 1590), son of Radvila the Red; Master of the Hunt of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Voivode of Naugardukas; 

Jonušas VI Radvila (1579-1620), grandson of Mikalojus the Red, oldest son of Kristupas Radvila Perkūnas and his second wife, Katryna Ostrogiškaitė (Katarzyna Ostrogska); Cup Bearer of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Castellan of Vilnius; 

Ana Radvilienė Sobkovna (d. 1578), first wife of Kristupas Radvila Perkūnas.

In 2008, when the historical, archeological, and architectural research on the Dubingiai Evangelical Reformed Church was completed, its foundations were preserved and the surroundings tidied up and adapted for tourism. A new burial crypt was built in place of the crypt under the church’s apse ascribed to Kristupas Radvila’s time. The new crypt was a monolithic 2.0 by 2.0 by 2.2 meter reinforced concrete construction, intended for the September 5, 2009 reburial of the members of the Radvila family. A 114.0 by 210.0 centimeter opening, covered with a lockable metal cover, was made for entry into the new crypt. A 1.6 by 1.6 by 0.16 meter polished black granite slab was placed above the crypt’s opening. This is a memorial plaque, designed to mark the spot of the Radvila burial. The engraved text was in the style of sixteenth and seventeenth century epithets.

The Radvila family had a remarkable impact on Lithuania’s history. At their initiative, the towns of Biržai and Kėdainiai were created and a number of their buildings, reminders of the past, have survived. Dubingiai was rescued from obscurity and the gravesite of some of the most famous Radvilas and the site of the former castle were put in order. The revealed foundations of the church were restored and preserved, a new burial crypt for the Radvilas prepared, and a new grand sarcophagus and marble grave marker built for their remains. The millennium of Lithuania’s name and the interment of the Radvila family found at Dubingiai were signified by their ceremonial reburial there on September 5, 2009 by the Republic of Lithuania. The revealed foundations of the Radvila Palace were covered by a modern concrete dome designed by architect Robertas Zilinskas, and the official opening of the museum inside occurred during celebrations of the coronation of Mindaugas on July 6, 2012. 

Translated by Elizabeth Novickas 


1 Albinas Kuncevičius, director; the project is financed according to General Subsidy Measure No. VP1-3.1-ŠMM-07-K-01-037.
2 More on research into the Dubingiai microregion’s territorial development during the prehistoric period is described in Kuncevičius, “Rytų Lietuvos teritorinis modelis.”
3 Latvis/Vartbergė, Livonijos kronikos.
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid
6 Archiwum Główne Akt Dawnych w Warszawie (AGAD)-AR. Dz. XI, Nr. 9.
7 Karvelis, iš Radvilų giminės istorijos. One pood equals approximately 36 pounds.
8 AGAD-ML, byla Nr. 209.
9 Pietkiewicz, “Najstarszy inwentarz.”  
10 Batūra, “Dubingių pilis XIV-XVI a.”
11 Karvelis, Iš Radvilų giminės istorijos.
12 Kotlubajus, Radvilos.
13 Batūra, “Dubingių pilis XIV-XVI a.” 


Batūra, Romas. “Dubingių pilis XIV -XVI a.” In Dubingiai, Stasys Skrodenis, editor. Vilnius: Vaga, 1971 

Karvelis, Deimantas, and Raimonda Ragauskienė. Iš Radvilų giminės istorijos: Dubingių kunigaikštystė 1547-1808 m. Vilnius: Vilniaus pedagoginio universiteto leidykla, 2009. 

Kotlubajus, Edward. Radvilos: Nesvyžiaus galerijos portretai. Vilnius: Mintis, 1995. 

Kuncevičius, Albinas, Rimantas Jankauskas, Rimvydas Laužikas, Daina Stankevičiūtė, and Indrė Rutkauskaitė. Radvilų tėvonija Dubingiuose. Vilnius: Vilniaus dailės akademijos leidykla, 2009. 

Kuncevičius, Albinas, Rimvydas Laužikas, Indrė Rutkauskaitė, and Ramūnas Šmigelskas. Radvilų rūmai Dubingiuose. Vilnius: Vilniaus universiteto leidykla, 2009. 

Kuncevičius, Albinas, Rimvydas Laužikas, R. Augustinavičius, and Ramūnas Šmigelskas. “Rytų Lietuvos teritorinis modelis I–XV a.,” in Lietuvos archeologija, t. 38, 2013. 

Latvis, Henrikas, and Hermanas Vartbergė. Livonijos kronikos. Vilnius: Mokslas, 1991. 

Pietkiewicz, Krzysztof. “Najstarszy inwentarz dóbr radziwiłłowskich z 1528 r.” In: Lituano-Slavica Posnaniensia. Poznań, t. 1, 1985.