TESTAMENTS OF THE VILNIUS DIOCESE CLERGY IN THE 2ND HALF OF THE 16TH C. THE LAW AND THE PRACTICE
Over 40 years ago Jerzy Ochmański stated that the cathedral chapter in Vilnius gathered the intellectual élite of Lithuania. In the mid-16th c. this group comprised 75 high-status clergymen (prelates and canons), 73 of them being lay clergymen and two – friars of the Dominican Order. Lay clergymen were able to bequeath their property, unlike friars, who were deprived of private property by the vow of poverty. Therefore, testaments of friars are rarities. Based on testaments, prosecutor accounts, shorthand notes from chapter meetings and the statute of the chapter, the article reconstructs the way of executing testaments. One of the decrees of the Vilnius chapter statute stated what should be done with the movable property of a canon or prelate if he did not leave a testament. Another decree granted the right to draw up a testament to each canon and prelate. Information on inheritance proceedings and on ways of sharing out the movable property can be found in accounts of chapter meetings. Records included in the accounts differ in length, frequency and the level of detail depending on the time they come from (from laconic mentions at the beginning of the period in question to more detailed descriptions at the end of the 16th c.), on who was in charge of the documents at that time, and possibly on what difficulties were encountered by the executors. Additional information can be drawn from the surviving yearly accounts of the chapter prosecutors from the last quarter of the 16th c. In several cases the originals or vidimuses have survived, therefore it was possible to compare testament instructions with their execution. In inheritance proceedings concerning the property of its member the chapter as a body strove to obey the statute both when the late clergyman drew up a last will and when he died not having shared out his properties. Nevertheless, it sometimes happened that particular members committed misappropriations or embezzlements. Other members reacted to such cases immediately; first of all they tried to recover the money and movables lost. The article aims to describe how the movables and money left by members of the Vilnius chapter were dispensed by the other members or testament executors. The data collected in the article can also provide a basis for further conclusions, for instance about clergymen’s mentality and personal relations; they also shed some light on the doings of the intellectual élite of Lithuania.
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