“The names of great people are often granted to institutions that have nothing to do with them. However, I still remember the year of 1922, when there was a reading room in this very place, and we used to come here”. This is what Kazys Ulvydas, a linguist, who was born and lived in Kedainiai, spoke during the local community festival “Be Reuniting Birds” organised by the Library on 27 May 1995. On that day, the Central Library was named after Mikalojus Daukša.
Mikalojus Daukša was a bright personality in the initial stage of the formation of the Lithuanian written language. He was an educator, who propagated humanistic ideas, defended the rights of the mother tongue in the 16th century. He was also one of the first creators of the Lithuanian literary language, who laid the foundations of the written language in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
Daukša was born between 1527-1538 in Babėnai (now a settlement in Kėdainiai), in a petty nobility family. It can be argued that Mikalojus Daukša grew and matured in the Lithuanian environment because the process of imposing the Polish language stayed away from Kėdainiai in the 16th century. The old traditions of the Lithuanian nobility prevailed, but new shifts began to emerge. One of such innovations was the pursuit of good secondary and higher education. It is not known where M. Daukša studied. Still, he could have received primary and secondary education in the Samogitian Diocese, i.e., Krekenava, Ariogala, Joniškis, Kražiai, and Varniai Tauragė schools, as well as in Kaunas, Vilnius. It was not only wealthy nobles who studied in higher education institutions (for instance, at the nearest universities in Kraków and Königsberg). Petty nobles, more prosperous townspeople, and sometimes an individual peasant would graduate from them. Jogaila urged Lithuanians and Ruthenians of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania to study theology and liberal arts at the University of Kraków. In the 15th-16th c. Lithuanian students also studied at this university. Among them, there were young people from the Samogitian Diocese and specifically from Kėdainiai. However, the surname of Daukša has not been found in the matricula, the register of students. The traces of Mikalojus Daukša have not been found in other European universities either.
However, his excellent education, which far surpassed the education of other priests of that time and his church career that preceded his career as a writer makes it evident that Mikalojus Daukša studied at the university.
In 1552-1553, Mikalojus Daukša was ordained as a priest. In 1570, he was appointed the parson of Krakės, a township in the north-west of Kėdainiai District. Thanks to him, a school with 12 learners was established there in 1579. In 1572, Daukša moved to Varniai in Telšiai District, where he served as a canon, an official of the Diocese, and later substituted the Bishop after he had left.
After Bishop Jurgis Petkevičius died, Merkelis Giedraitis, a dedicated patron of the Lithuanian spirit, was appointed Bishop. Mikalojus Daukša communicated closely with Giedraitis; therefore, when the latter became Bishop, the fame of Daukša considerably increased in the Samogitian Diocese. Besides, Mikalojus Daukša was the only Canon of Varniai, who spoke Lithuanian, adhered to celibacy, and did not relinquish his duties as a priest, which could not be said of other priests of that time.
Thus, in Varniai, under the patronage of Bishop Merkelis Giedraitis, the literary talent of Mikalojus Daukša was destined to unfold.
In 1595, Mikalojus Daukša translated from the Polish language “Catechism” written by the Spanish Jesuit Jacob Ledesma (1522-1570). The translation, with the foreword written by Daukša, was published in Vilnius. “Katekizmas” is the oldest book in the Lithuanian language published in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania that survived. The only known copy of this publication is preserved in the Vilnius University Library.
In 1599, the most famous work of Mikalojus Daukša, “Postilė”, was published in Vilnius. It is a translation of the collection of the sermons of Jakub Wujek (1541-1597) into Lithuanian. “Postilė” starts with the dedication to Bishop Merkelis Giedraitis and two forewords, in Latin and Polish. Particularly valuable is the Polish one, “Foreword to the pleasant reader”, which urges Lithuanians to nurture their mother tongue and be proud of their nationality. In his “Foreword”, Daukša discloses the concept of the nation, the cornerstones of which are the “land of parents”, i.e., a shared territory, and “customs”, i.e., the cultural fellowship and the mother tongue.
By translating J. Wujek’s “Postilla”, Mikalojus Daukša stands out as a man of letters. The translation is full of neologisms, live language. It is believed that it took him 12-15 years to translate “Postilla” as he was continuously distracted by spiritual and earthly affairs. It was printed in a circulation of no more than 500 copies. Five copies of them have survived. Four are preserved in Lithuania: two at Vilnius University; two at Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania. One copy is in the Vatican Library.
On 13 February 1613, Mikalojus Daukša wrote his will and died. He is buried in Varniai.
The staff of Kėdainiai Mikalojus Daukša Public Library is trying to be worthy of its honourable name. On 17 November 1995, the Library commemorated two dates significant for the Lithuanian culture and related to Kėdainiai: the 400th anniversary of “Katekizmas”, translated by Mikalojus Daukša and published in 1595; and the 85th anniversary of the famous linguist Dr Kazys Ulvydas, who was awarded the title of Honorary Citizen of Kėdainiai Region.
The event started with a visit to the old oak still growing in Mikalojus Daukša’s homeland in Babėnai. The Library organised exhibitions dedicated to the 400th anniversary of M. Daukša’s “Katekizmas” and the 85th birthday of K. Ulvydas.
One of the reports, “The Significance of Daukša’s “Katekizmas” in the History of Lithuanian Christianity”, presented by Jesuit Priest Dr Jonas Boruta Snr, was dedicated to the heritage of Mikalojus Daukša. The speaker emphasised the significance of Mikalojus Daukša for the survival of the Lithuanian language and the establishment of Catholicism in Lithuania in the 16th -17th centuries.
For the 400th anniversary of the translation of “Catechism” made by Mikalojus Daukša, the staff of the Bibliography Department of the Mikalojus Daukša Public Library prepared a publication “Steps of Mikalojus Daukša on the Land of Kėdainiai”.
In 1997, the Library published the first part of the publication “Kėdainiai krašto knygiai” (Men of Letters of Kedainiai District), “Civitas Caiodunensis”, which reviews the activities of local men of letters born in 1500-1700. Special attention in it is paid to Mikalojus Daukša. Excerpts from this booklet can be found in the publication “Žemaičių žemė” (Land of Samogitians). It is available on the website of the Samogitian Cultural Society.
The year of 1999 was famous in Lithuania for the 400th anniversary of Mikalojus Daukša’s “Postilė”. The Library invited the community of Kėdainiai to a series of events dedicated to the jubilee.
In cooperation with the Literary Club “Varsna” and the journalists of the newspaper “Kėdainių garsas”, the Library organised a Poetry and Prose Competition dedicated to this anniversary.
The Library also initiated an international Ex-Libris Competition and the exhibition “Ex Libris. Daukša’s “Postilė” – 400”.
It was not only Lithuanian artists and bookmark creators but also their colleagues from Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Italy, Japan, Croatia, Poland, Mexico, Romania, Russia, Finland, Ukraine, Germany, and other countries who responded to the invitation of the organisers to participate in the international Ex-Libris Competition. 120 authors from 35 countries submitted more than 270 bookmarks created using different graphic techniques. The exhibits uniquely embodied Mikalojus Daukša, his “Postilė” and its significance for written Lithuanian and the mother tongue. Many ex-libris items reflected the Lithuanian culture, history and the present. They were designed for various scientific, artistic, and cultural institutions, famous personalities and linguists researching “Postilė” and the creative heritage of Miklaojus Daukša.
The jury awarded the first prize to the Romanian artist Ovidiu Petca, who created an original collection of ex-libris items that best reflected the terms and objectives of the competition using screen printing techniques. The second prize went to Pavel Drozd from Poland. Two third prizes were awarded to the Lithuanian artists Marius Liugailas and Jolanta Galdikaitė. Aina Carlson from Latvia, Claudio Lara from Argentina, Petro Malyško from Ukraine, Istvan Molnar from Hungary, Takao Sano from Japan and Živilė Zviliūtė from Lithuania were granted incentive prizes.
The name of Mikalojus Daukša is often mentioned at Library events. In the autumn of 2015, the Vilnius University Library, which was implementing the project “Lithuania in the Vilnius University Library” proposed to present the exhibition “History of Kėdainiai Region in the Documents of the Vilnius University Library”, and the proposal was welcomed.
The people of Kėdainiai had a rare opportunity to see in one place the historical publications related to Kėdainiai, one or only a few copies of which have survived.
Some of the valuable exhibits stored in the Vilnius University Library collections were presented including the examples of the stamps of the Radvila family and the world atlas of the famous geographer, cartographer, and publisher Abraham Ortelius (1527-1598), which dates back to the 17th c. library of Jonušas Radvila.
Mikalojus Daukša’s “Postilė” was also exhibited. It is believed that this book was kept in his bedroom by Duke Jonušas Radvila himself.