Nowhere else in the world you will find such a place – where so many crosses are brought by people on the hill, embraced by legends, and fables. The Hill of Crosses is a unique sacral place, amazing and the only one of its size and history in the world. This world well-known shrine is frequented by tourists. People of different nations and religions bring here crosses with their names, intentions, and pleadings for clemency.
Story of the hill preserved by the peoples’ perseverance
The Hill of Crosses near Siauliai was formed on Jurgaiciai mound, which was considered a holy place. It is believed that the first crosses were left on the Hill by the relatives of rebels killed in the uprising of 1831, but the Hill of Crosses is mentioned in written sources only since 1850. The erection of crosses on the hill in great numbers began in 1863, when the Tsarist authorities banned the installation of crosses not only by the roadsides, but also in cemeteries. The history also tells us that many crosses appeared in the end of the nineteenth century after the apparition of the Holy Virgin Mary with baby Jesus. It was she, they say, who encouraged people to build crosses in this place.
In Soviet times, the erection of crosses was not tolerated, and the hill became a non-desirable, even forbidden place, opposing the Soviet ideology. On the night of 5 April 1961 all crosses were bulldozed and crushed, and then pushed downhill. Wooden crosses were burned right on the spot, metal ones were taken to the metal scrap and melted, and concrete and stone ones were crushed with crushers and used for road construction. After the first devastation, later the Hill of Crosses was periodically devastated for four more times. However, the more fervently the hill was being destroyed, the more powerfully it would be rebuilt. People were stubbornly bringing crosses at night, despite the dangers, prohibitions and persecutions of authorities. The Hill of Crosses became a symbol of an unshakable faith in the people, their sufferings and hopes.
An impressive monument of 100 thousand crosses
When Lithuania regained its independence, crowds of pilgrims began coming to the Hill of Crosses. Crosses now were everywhere, even at the foot of the hill, because no place was left on the hill itself. Currently, the hill has over 100 thousand crosses dug in the ground, large and small, and a huge number of holy statues and paintings with rosaries on them. Tourists who come to this place say that the hill attracts them with its tranquillity, spirituality, and the authentic and sacred presence.
Made famous by Pope John Paul II
Most of all the Hill of Crosses was popularised throughout the Christian world by Pope John Paul II, who visited it on 7 September 1993. He offered St. Mass on the hill, during which he prayed for the martyrs of faith in Lithuania and the entire Christian Europe. The Pope then named Lithuania the country of crosses, and the Hill of Crosses – a very special place in the world, accumulating the suffering and pain of the century, but shining with the hope of resurrection. Encouraged by the Holy Father, the Franciscan monastery was built near the hill, and now pilgrims come to stay in its silence.
Lithuanian cross-making
The cross making craft is one of the most unique Lithuanian crafts, included in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List. Traditional Lithuanian crosses are unique masterpieces of architecture, blacksmith, sculpture and painting. They are a valuable Lithuanian folk heritage, but most importantly – the Lithuanian cross making is so strong that it was not interrupted even under the strict Soviet power.