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Hill of Crosses, Lithuania

Hill of Crosses, Lithuania

Hill of the Crosses, Lithuania

Highlights of Lithuania | Hill of Crosses

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Highlights of Lithuania | Hill of Crosses

The Hill of Crosses in Šiauliai

Situated near the northern city of Siauliai in Lithuania, the Hill of Crosses stands tall amidst vast farmland, adorned with over 100,000 crosses of various shapes and sizes. From intricate metal crosses to massive wooden ones, this site, also known as Kryziu Kalnas, serves as both a pilgrimage destination and a symbol of Lithuanian resilience during the challenging years of Soviet dominance.

It embodies the unyielding spirit of Lithuanian Catholicism in the midst of historical adversities. Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, the array of crosses, saints’ icons, and Jesus statues creates a striking and profound spectacle, illustrating why the Hill of Crosses holds such profound significance for many. For travelers, this sacred site is accessible with a two and a half-hour drive from Vilnius or just over an hour and a half from Riga.

The History of the Hill of Crosses

Hill of Crosses

Following the 3rd partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1795, Lithuania became part of the Russian Empire. In 1831, Lithuanians and Poles staged an unsuccessful rebellion against Russian authorities, sparking the tradition of placing crosses on the hill to commemorate the rebellion’s victims. Families, unable to locate the bodies of fallen rebels, used crosses as a way to honor and remember them. The number of crosses grew after another failed rebellion in 1863 during Tsarist rule, when national identity and religious expression were suppressed, depriving families of the opportunity for proper burial ceremonies.

In 1918, Lithuania declared independence, transforming the Hill of Crosses into a site for prayer and reflection. Many Lithuanians visited the hill to pray for those lost in the war of independence. During the Soviet occupation from 1944 to 1990, the hill became a powerful symbol of resistance. Despite Soviet attempts to demolish the crosses, Lithuanians defiantly continued to erect them, showcasing their allegiance to their country, religion, and heritage. The Soviets viewed the hill as a threat to their authority, leading to repeated destruction of the site. Nevertheless, Lithuanians persisted, risking punishment to ensure new crosses appeared daily.

With Lithuania regaining independence in 1991, the hill was adorned with a multitude of crosses. In 1993, Pope John Paul II‘s visit to the site elevated its status as a place of hope, peace, love, and sacrifice. Today, the Hill of Crosses stands as a testament to the resilience of Lithuanian culture and unwavering faith. UNESCO has recognized cross-crafting as an integral part of Lithuania’s intangible cultural heritage, underscoring the hill as an exceptional example of this cherished tradition in action..

Visiting the Hill of Crosses

As local artist and historian Vilius Puronas articulated to the BBC, the Hill of Crosses symbolizes a collective ownership, belonging to all without any specific claim from the church or government. People are drawn to this site not out of obligation, but rather out of personal inspiration. The Hill of Crosses remains accessible to visitors 24/7 throughout the year, free of charge, allowing individuals to contribute by placing their own crosses on the hill.

The cross donated by John Paul II

A visit to the Hill of Crosses unveils two significant crosses deserving attention. The first showcases a seated Jesus, sheltered beneath a roof, engaged in private prayer with a solemn expression. This poignant representation mirrors the many Catholics who had to practice their faith clandestinely during the oppressive reign of the Russian government. The second notable cross, prominently positioned at the site, was gifted by Pope John Paul II after his visit in 1993. This large metal cross mounted on a marble base bears an inscription expressing the Pope’s gratitude to the Lithuanian people for their unwavering faith.

Beyond its haunting beauty, the Hill of Crosses narrates a profound tale of Lithuanian heritage and history. It serves as a poignant emblem of resilience, shedding light on the enduring hardships faced by the Lithuanian populace under oppressive political regimes. This monument stands as a powerful testament to a past of struggle and triumph, making it a compelling destination for a day trip from Vilnius.

For those captivated by the myriad Christian crosses adorning this sacred hill, our Baltics tour offers an enriching experience. Travelers on this tour have the opportunity to explore the Hill of Crosses en route to Riga. To delve deeper into the allure of Lithuania, do explore our detailed country profile for further insights.

A statue of Christ at the Hill of Crosses

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