What is the Coat of Arms of Vilnius?

The myth behind Vilnius foundation has something more interesting than average.

If you look at the map the place where Lithuanian capital is located may look silly.

In a blind test, you would probably point in the middle of the map and spot Kaunas, which has been the former capital for a while and nowadays is the second largest Lithuanian city.


When I looked at Rail Baltica project I thought the foundation myth may eventually be true.

Gediminas didn’t bump here casually.

Gediminas is widely considered to be the founder of Lithuania.

He had great plans about this country. His plea to Pope XII in 1322 appears to be so vivid and modern it is surprising to realize it was written in 1322:

“Furthermore, we open our land, dominion, and kingdom to every person of good will.

To knights, armsbearers, merchants, healers, smiths, carpenters, cobblers, fur-makers, millers, storekeepers, and each person of mechanical arts — to all those named above we want to distribute land to each according to his dignity.”

The legend says that Gediminas was hunting in a valley where the river the city is named after (Vilnia) flows into the Neris. After having killed a bison he decided to spend the night there.

That night Gediminas had a strange dream.

He dreamed of an iron wolf howling on a hill and asked for a pagan priest to interpret his dream. This is how, according to the legend, Vilnius is born:

“What is destined for the ruler and the State of Lithuania, is thus: the Iron Wolf represents a castle and a city which will be established by you on this site. This city will be the capital of the Lithuanian lands and the dwelling of their rulers, and the glory of their deeds shall echo throughout the world.”

Gediminas is widely considered to be the founder of Vilnius (and Lithuania) but in the Coat of Arms of Vilnius there is no trace of the iron wolf. Instead you will see St. Christopher carrying a baby Jesus on his shoulders (and the story turns out to be even more fun).


Because of a misinterpretation of his name, St. Christopher is often depicted as dog-headed. More details here

At first this reminded me of Aeneas, the trojan hero behind the birth of Roman Empire, who carried his father on his shoulders out of the buring city of Troy, while apparently the real story comes from an early Christian legend.

Christopher was a giant, carrying people across a very dangerous river.

One day a little child approached him, seeking for his service.

While crossing the river he became incredibly heavier, so that when they were on the other side, Christopher asked for an explanation. Here is the answer:

“You had on your shoulders not only the whole world but Him who made it. I am Christ your king, whom you are serving by this work.”

Christopher, Christophoros in ancient greek, literally means “bearing Christ”.

Vilnius, Rail Baltica, a wolf, a river, St. Christopher? Where are we going, Baol?

Lithuania is surprising and so is the final part of our riddle.

Ready for the end of our tour?

Vilnius was a pagan city. It was speculated that in pagan times the coat of arms featured a Titan, Alkis carrying his wife Janterytė on his shoulders across the Vilnia River.

The image stayed. The meaning changed. 

Now you know what Vilnius Coat of Arms is and a couple of things more.

If you have more elements about the final part of the story I would be glad if you could share them with me (Lithiuanian language accepted).
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