The town was the first capital of pagan Lithuania. According to legends, Palemonas’ grandson Kernius has founded the town. Also the town might have been the capital of Lithuania in Grand Duke Mindaugas’ (the founder of Lithuania) times. There is no historical source which would mention the place where Grand Duke Mindaugas capital was.
Kernavė had been mentioned in historical sources after Mindaugas’ death in 1279. In Herman Vartberge’s and poetical Livonia chronicles Kernavė is mentioned as a domain of Grand Duke Traidenis. Traidenis could have been one of King Mindaugas’ relatives, who wanted to rule after the King’s death. Traidenis ruled since 1269 till 1282. At that time Kernavė was one of the most significant Lithuanian economical and political centres.
First of all when you come to Kernavė you might visit town’s museum. The history of the town is presented in the museum. Your start-point might be neo-gothic red bricks’ church of St. Virgin Maria Skaplierinė that was built in 1910-1920. In the graveyard of the church there are the mosaics dedicated to the 600th anniversary of Baptising of Lithuania. Artist Jadvyga Grisiūtė made the mosaics of local stones in 1987. The mosaics are 15 cross-stand places for sacred services. Kernavė’s Parson and writer Nikodemas Švogžlys (1899-1985) is buried in the graveyard of the church. His pseudonym was Milžinas; he thought that in 1251 King Mindaugas was baptized and inaugurated in Kernavė. There is a rectory right beside the church. In the yard of the church there is a flower-lined Lithuania-shape pool.
Behind the church on the steep there is an observation ground. From the ground you can see one of the most beautiful sites in Lithuania – mounds, valley, and meandering Neris River with an island. The place of the ancient Kernavė’s church is marked on the ground (15th -18th cent.).
On the spot there are two chapels built in 18th and 19th century. The one is octagonal wooden chapel that is shackled with hand-made nails, and the other chapel is octagonal stone. The stone chapel was Remeriai – Puzinai family mausoleum, and the wooden chapel was of Jazdauskai family mausoleum. During the restoration works an egg-like “living” stone was found in the wooden chapel. Bio-energy specialists state that this stone was used during pagan rituals and is loaded with spiritual energy. You can found more about bio-energy secrets in architect’s Algirdas Alekna “Paslapčių” museum.
For many year modern pagans celebrate Rasos holiday – the holiday of the shortest night of the year (June 22) – on Kernave’s mounds. This celebration is organized by Lithuania union of romuva (ancient pagan temples were called romuva).
Have a look on the mounds. One of them is Mindaugas’ Throne Mound that earlier was called Pilies Mound. To the south from this mound there is Aukuras Mound where a castle has been situated. It is easy to found Smailiakalnis Mound or Lizdeika Mound that has jag. Pilies Mound is the biggest. There are many legends about Kernavė’s mounds. One of the legends says that there was an underground road to Trakai and Vilnius. In Kernavė the road was shut with metal gate, in Trakai – with silver gate and in Vilnius – with golden gate. By the other legend when Lithuania was baptized in 1387 and the pagan Temple of God Perkūnas in Vilnius was destroyed. At Lizdeika Mound Magus Lizdeika was living together with his priestesses, who were nursing the Holy Fire on Aukuras Mound. He was preaching, and explaining people’s dreams. The valley in Kernave is named after the most beautiful priestess Pajauta.
In 1986 in Pajautos Valley archaeologists has found the ruins of 13th century feudal town. It is one of the oldest Lithuanian towns. It is set that first people has settled in Pajauta Valley in 9th – 8th century B.C. The lower Kernavė was prospering until crusaders’ incursion. At the end of 15th century the settlement was destroyed by crusaders. In the beginning of 15th century New Kernavė was developing on the right Neris River bank. Honourable past of Kernavė is represented on the emblem of Kernavė – a knight near gates of ruined town. On the bottom of emblem is a note “It is better to die than to lose freedom.”
Every year in the beginning of June during “Kernave Archaeology Days” festival the grand quiet in Kernave is perturbed by regenerated past. On Pilies castle mound and in Pajauta Valley there are theatricalised shows of knights’ battles; archery, many dexterous folk artists and other people work their job. A unique atmosphere is fortified by old music rhythms, smell and delicious food that are prepared according to middle ages recipes. Dip into joyful uproar of the festival and feel the spirit of middle ages! Don’t blunder away a chance to coin, to throw a pot yourself, to ride a horse, or to taste ancient food. There are activities for curious children – special competitions and other middle ages games are waiting for them.