Fleet under the Count’s Insignia
165 years ago, Tishkevich brothers opened one of the first museums in Belarus
Down the Vilia River in Chase for Songs
The flagship owner was 51 years old. It is a golden age for an enlightened person with fiery passion and enough money to make his dreams come true. Konstantine’s passions were archeology and regional studies. He spared no expenses; his money came from family enterprise — fabric manufacture, sugar refinery, and brickyard. Similar to his contemporaries-patriots, count, literally with his own hands, collected historical fragments, performed digs at burial grounds and lost cities sites. Luckily, his domain had a plenty of those. Lahojsk area is an ancient historical region. It is enough to say that the city of Lahojsk dates from year 1078.
At the time when the feet raised its sails, Konstantine’s father, 101-year old Pius Tishkevich, was still in good health. Were old count a little younger, he would have joined his elder son, because he was a famous connoisseur of old things. He was thoroughly keeping family chronicles, together with his second wife Augusta from the Plyatter family — his first wife, Liudvica died in year 1803 — collected a rich library and a collection of rarities, many items for which he found in local burial mounts. At the age of a hundred years, our noble archeologist was elected as the honorary member of Vilna (now Vilnius, Lithuania) Archeological Commission.
Now we should say where count Konstantine — widely-known for his texts in Vilenski Vestnik (Vilna bulletin) “On the burial mounts in Lithuania and western parts of Russia” — was heading to on a lovely day in May 1857.
Tishkevich and his associates were in chase of … songs and fables. His excellence himself was keeping a journal of the local castles’ history, new and old regardless, majestic temples, mounts, and city ruins. The sights inspired accompanying artists to make sketches of all the beautiful places. The result of the four-month voyage — it is 682 verst (1 verst equals 1067 meters) or 300 visited villages — was the book “Vilia and its Shores,” finished in 1858 and published in Dresden, Germany three years after the demise of its author in 1871. The book is not boring to read even today.
Yotvingians Under the Oaks of Belovezhskaya Pushcha
Konstantine had a younger brother, who was a good match to him in his enthusiasm for exploration. He even superseded Konstantine in his authority in academia — contemporary scholars call him the founder of the Belarusian archeology. He was also born in Lahojsk in 1814. Just like his brother, he decided to give up a government job for independent research, relying only on his own money and skills.
At the age of 23, Eustarhiy takes part in the archeological dig of the mounts in Lahojsk area. During the same year 1837, writes an article for “St. Petersburg Bulletin,” in Polish. Do you know what he has been complaining about? He complained that the mounts, according to local traditions, were considered sacred, even untouchable. He had not only to pay well to his people, but also to work alongside with the serfs, in order to share the sin.
Warsaw weekly newspaper “Klosy” (Wheatears) dedicated its front page to Eustarhiy on April 13(25), 1865 together with his new scientific hypothesis. The thing is, between the oak roots archeologists found human skeletons, iron objects, pottery, and plates. According to Eustarhiy, oaks used to be sacred to people and were used as burial places for the ancient Yotvingians.
Perhaps, a forest spirit was indeed guarding pagan amulets under the trees... By the way, Konstantine Tishkevich distinguished between ancient Kryvichi and Radzimichi tribal territories, based on the design of the amulets, charms, and rings found in their burial complexes.
In year 1842, after obtaining their father’s approval, brothers opened in their family estate in Lahojsk a museum.
The Cross of Sigismund the First Moves to Vilna
Lahojsk in not easy to reach but Tishkevichs wanted their museum to be open to a wide audience. Such as that of Vilna, for example, which at that moment did not have a cultural center, since Vilna University was shut down by the Russian authorities after the national liberation uprising in years 1830–1831.
Count was successful and on April 29, 1855, Emperor Alexander II signed a permit, “Provisions for the Museum of Antiques and Temporary archeological Commission.” The first meeting of the enthusiasts took place on January 11, 1856. They were adepts of politesse, and dedicated the museum opening to the birthday of Alexander II, on April 17, 1856.
I think that it was the happiest day for 42-year old Eustahiy, who had studied museum management in Denmark and Sweden. Some of the best minds of that age agreed to become full-fledged members of the commission — Teodor Narbut, historian, Jozef Ignacy Kraszewski and Ignatius Hadko, writers, Adam Kirkor, publisher. The patrons of art both one-time and ready to “pay early allowances of 30 rubles in silver to the order of the Museum and the Commission” included, besides Konstantine’s brother, such well-known nobles as counts Rainold Tizenhaus, Maryan Chapski, princes Nicolay Radzivil and Konstantine Snitko.
Unmatched example of the Tishkevich’s devotion well worth numerous praises — on horses from Lahojsk to Vilna they moved 2000 antiquities — stone idols, ancient weapons, around 3 thousand books, 3 thousand of coins and medals, more than a thousand of prints, geographical maps, and copper printing plates.
“Archeologists” addressed their peers, in case they found anything of interest in their dominions, like an old coin or a stone axe, not to throw it away, but to donate this object to the museum for the purposes of the “replenishment of … study of the region not only in historical, but also in trade, industrial, agricultural, and statistical respect.”
They received responses not only from friends, but complete strangers donated strange findings to Vilna — from bronze figurine of Milda, the ancient goddess of love, to the huge bell, found near Radoshkovichi with an ancient glyph, “In year six thousand, nine hundred, twenty eight this bell was created with the blessings of the holy trinity, by orders of the servant of God Shedibor Valimontovich, bell artisan Ustjek.”
Every Sunday, the Museum of Antiques’ visitors had a chance to enjoy Tyrrhenian vases, Pompeian and Herculaneum relics, as well as the precious cross, a present from the Polish king Sigismund the first to the old catholic church in town of Gajna in year 1514. “Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary” contains an entry about this museum.
I can probably say which day was for Eustahiy Tishkevich the most tragic. Every antiques collector can confirm that it is when the collection is destroyed. The inevitability of the tragic final was clear after the violent repression of the 1863 liberation uprising. In year 1865, governor-general M. Muravyov ordered to create a special commission “for the examination and arrangement of the Museum of Antiques’ items.” The grand eviction began — by Muravyov’s order, major part of all the items were moved to Rumyancev museum in Moscow, some were stored in Vilna public library. The rest of the rarities — extremely hard but not impossible to get a count of from the catalogue of Vilna museum — were simply pilfered as belonging to “Latin-Polish heritage pantheon.” What is prohibited from being seen by the general public, looks great in private collections, especially if received for free.
It is hard to live through such attitude to the main sense of life. However, count Eustahiy Tishkevich, member of the Danish royal society of the northern antiques amateurs, Stockholm royal academy of arts and antiques, London archeological institute, honorary member of the Saint-Petersburg Academy of Sciences, chamber-junker of his emperor’s majesty court, lived through this. He even waited until the review of the Muravyov’s commission resolution and recovery of some of the museum items back to Vilna.
The wise count but understood that the most important things are impossible to get back. As if in bitter irony, only 206 (Sic!) items found their way back to Vilna. The rest of the priceless items, like in case of the unique chain armor with Slavic writings from Orsha, remained in Moscow. He tried to systematize his archeological research, brought to order his genealogical tree, was in active correspondence with scholars from Kyiv, Moscow, Saint Petersburg, but never managed to recover from the most important loss in his life. In August 1873, Eustahiy passed at his sister’s hands in Vilna. Pavlina, devoted sister, organized burial ceremony at the cemetery in Rosy, near the grave of another our enlightener V. Syrakomlya. The tombstone has family insignia “Leliwa.”
The second Birth of the Museum
I wouldn’t have elaborated on life of the noble brothers, if I didn’t have issues. These days, in Lahojsk there are plans to reopen the first Belarusian museum. It will bear names of Konstantine and Eustahiy Tishevich. This decision has already been made and the first steps have already been taken — the working group has been created with Svetlana Grin at the head. Svetlana showed the gem of the collection to me — the book by E. Tishkevich “The view on the local archeological sources, or the descriptions of the several ancient monuments, discovered in Western governments of the Russian Tzardom.”
— This is the present form Georgiy Stykhov, famous Belarusian archeologist, — explained she with pride. For Georgiy Lahojsk area has special significance — he performed digs at many mounts there.
I read the first lifetime edition of the Tishkevich’s book under strict supervision of museum workers. Count himself drew illustrations of his discoveries for the book. It is possible that his friends-insurgents had a chance to read this book before going to Siberia in exile.
Apart from the book, G.Stykhov donated around a thousand of items from his own personal archeological findings. What a symbolical gesture and such good timing! Local history zealots, accepting any aid with gratitude, set up ambitious goals — to recreate good memory of the legendary collection of the first Belarusian museum. Although it is obvious that the original items, located in Poland, Lithuania, and Russia, will be impossible to get back, no one will return them.
— At least, it is possible to go to other cities, where Lahojsk rarities are stored, and study them, says Svetlana. — If we do it right, I think, guests and tourists from different countries will come and visit Lahojsk more often.
Frankly speaking, I like idealists because they judge difficulties by their own optimistic standards and thus manage to overcome them. I would like to live to see under the roof of a very pretty building, already donated by local authorities, if not the original artifacts, but artistically hand-made copies of them. I think, this was the dream of a wonderful history lover of our times Gennady Kohanovskiy, who, 15 years ago, was the first to publish a book about E. Tishkevich “Enthusiast of Our Ancient History.”
… After that, together with the chief archivist Viktor Nesterovich we went to give a bow to the person, who stated the first public collection in the city on Gajna. Indeed, there is a monument to Konstantine Tishkevich, who passed away in 1868 and was buried in Lahojsk. His tombstone is still at the cemetery by the catholic church.
We couldn’t pass the ruins — everything that is left from the legendary palace in Lahojsk, perpetuated by the drawings of Napoleon Orda. It is sad to say, but the walls of the palace, being almost unscathed in the 1930’s, were blown up at the end of the World War II, the remained bricks were pilfered in the 1960’s. However, the buildings of a more household purpose including former linen manufacture, stables, gatehouse, and icehouse survived. Some of them are even inhabited.
Some of the old park fragments have also survived exotic trees and a waterfall system. Old trees and dry stream beds evoke melancholy. I tried to recall a delightful fact: in year 2007 the enthusiasts from Vilejka and the local ethnographers from Lahojsk as well as the guests from Lithuania are going to repeat the way of Tishkevich on Vilia river.