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On the Site of the Presently Restored St. John’s Church, a Badge of the University of Königsberg was found by Klaipėda University Archaeologists

After the archaeologists of Klaipėda University had completed this year’s season on the site of the presently restored St. John’s Church, office work began: handling of finds and their analysis. In 2019, nearly 1,000 finds were collected, while those of this year are still being counted and documented. Among the predominant household and construction–related finds, a special group of them should be noted, including one which will undoubtedly impress not only those interested in history, but also education institutions of Klaipėda.

The founder of the Albertina University in Königsberg is portrayed

After the war, when the ground on the site of the demolished St. John’s Church was levelled, various finds got into the presently excavated layer, related not merely to the interior or exterior architecture of the church, but also to the relics of the school that had stood next to it. A bronze badge found by archaeologists with a warrior depicted in it immediately caught the eye and caused the desire to find out who the person was. The shape of the badge corresponded to the shape of the depicted warrior with decorative armour, a raised sword in his right hand, and his left hand resting on a shield. Other details of particular relevance for identification were two books and an inscription. One book was under the left arm of the warrior, and in front of him, there was another book with two heraldic crowned eagles on the cover. In the lower semicircle, the abbreviated inscription CIVIS ACAD. ALB., whose full version in Latin was CIVIS ACADEMIAE ALBERTI, raised no doubts about the depicted person being Prince Albert (Germ. Albrecht) of Prussia (1490-1568), the founder of the University of Königsberg (Germ. Albertus-Universität Königsberg), or the Albertina in Königsberg (1544-1945).

The badge was worn by students, and later, by school leavers

The production of such badges began in 1801. They were first worn by students at the University of Königsberg, traditionally on their student caps (Germ. Couleurmütze), and later by school leavers of secondary schools, mainly gymnasiums, in East Prussia, usually on the lapels of their school jackets. One can see the way the badges were worn in the photo of Rastenburg school leavers of 1929. Some of the young people in the photo wore more than one of such badges: in some cases, as many as several dozens. .

A school at St. John’s Church that turned into a gymnasium

The badge found in Klaipėda suggests that the tradition of secondary schools and gymnasiums in East Prussia was also alive in Klaipėda. As evidenced by historical data, next to St. John’s Church (Tomo Street), there used to be a gymnasium since 1860, which in 1888 was granted the status of a royal (state) gymnasium. In 1895, the Old Town Boys’ Secondary School (Altstädtische Knaben-Mittelschule zu Memel) opened in the building.

However, educational activities next to the church area began much earlier, when in 1781, a school building was constructed. According to Vasilijus Safronovas’ historical research, “the exact date was identified by a plaque, once placed on the building. It contained the inscription Schola Memelensis ope Dei Triunius Maximi tandem exstructa [Anno] 1781, which informed that the school in Klaipėda was established in 1781 with the help of the Supreme Trinity of God. The school was expanded more

than once. After the great city fire of 1854 (during which St. John’s Church had also been damaged), during the works of its reconstruction, it was transferred elsewhere. Safronovas noted that it was the oldest and the main school in Klaipėda, which changed its name several times and was ultimately called Louise Gymnasium in Klaipėda. The school operated until 1944 and stayed in the building in Tomo Street until 1891. The building was demolished not earlier than by the end of December in 1944, and after the war, the area had been covered in ruins for years. Later, the buildings erected on the site of the school (the “wooden department store” and garages) were only temporary. .

Given that during and after the war, the buildings of both the school and St. John’s Church stood side by side, when handling the ruins in the layer formed above them, the finds could have been scattered and mixed. The badge was taken to the History Museum of Lithuania Minor. In addition, an identical badge with a surviving pin, made in the early 20th century, had got into the 19th through the early 20th century collection of pottery and metal items from Klaipėda Region of the of Klaipedian Dionyzas Varkalis, the founder of the Blacksmith Museum, which in 1988 was donated to the current Lithuanian National Museum of Art.