Located around 7 miles north of the city of Šiauliai, in Lithuania, the Hill of Crosses is a very important pilgrimage site for the largely Christian population of Lithuania. The hill is named for the hundreds of thousands of crosses/crucifixes left by pilgrims there over a period of many decades, testament to the power of religious devotion, where people from across the globe come to plead with Jesus Christ for a miracle.
Did You Know?Although named the Hill of Crosses, one can find other signs of devotion apart from crucifixes and crosses, such as rosaries, tiny effigies/statutes of Virgin Mary, and those of Lithuanian patriots and revolutionaries too.
However, this site is not just religious in purpose. It also has a lot of historical importance attached to it. It stands as a monument for remembering the sacrifice of Lithuanian patriots who gave their lives for the nation, against one of the most powerful empires in world history.
Facts About the Hill of Crosses
The town of Šiauliai was founded in the year 1230, when the people of Lithuania were still largely Pagan in culture. It was only in 1413, after the unification with Poland, did the town embrace Christianity. At this time, Šiauliai was under the rule of the Teutons, and it is believed that the planting of crosses on the hill originated as a protest to the subjugation of the locals by the Teutonic leaders. The practice of erecting crosses continued even when Russia invaded the country in 1610, and also when Poland was partitioned in 1772 and 1796, which dissolved the existence of Lithuania as a country.
However, the hill took new importance when Lithuania was annexed as a part of the Soviet Union, and renamed as the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic in the late 1800s. At this time, the Czarist Soviet authorities strictly forbade the display of religious symbols. Also, over 36,000 Lithuanian leaders were executed or deported. In spite of this, the hill was rebuilt, and thousands of new crosses were illegally erected at the site. To stop this, the KGB bulldozed the hill, destroying all the crosses and leveling the area. However, new crosses kept popping up, secretly placed at the site in a sign of silent protest.
Pathway Across the Hill of Crosses
Pathway Across the Hill of Crosses
The Soviets subsequently bulldozed the site two more times, and even resorted to covering the hill with sewage and waste. However, all of these efforts were in vain. The number of crosses at the site kept increasing, until the Russian authorities finally gave up in 1985, and the hill was nationally recognized as an anti-communist resistance shrine. The Hill of Crosses flourished again, making the place sacred in the eyes of the citizens of the nation, as a place to pray for peace, national unity, and to remember their loved ones who died for the independence of the nation.
On the 7th of September 1993, Pope John Paul II visited here, and declared it a place for hope, love, peace, and sacrifice. A stone slab is inscribed with his words, which reads "Thank you, Lithuanians, for this Hill of Crosses which testifies to the nations of Europe and to the whole world the faith of the people of this land." In 2000, a Franciscan Hermitage was built near the hill, and its interior was decorated with art associated with La Verna, the mountain where Saint Francis got his stigmata. At present, the hill is not under the jurisdiction of any authority body. Therefore, people can build their own crosses at the site as they see fit. Also, the Lithuanian art of cross-making―kryždirbystė―is now officially a part of UNESCO Immaterial World Heritage.
Anyone visiting this area of Lithuania will see the Hill of Crosses bristling with many thousands of crosses and crucifixes around the place, most of which are attached with messages, tributes, and prayers made by visiting pilgrims. The crosses vary in shapes and sizes, some of which are several meters in height. While most are wooden, others made from metal, plaster, and granite can also be found. 50 of the crosses are considered to have major cultural significance.
Portraits of loved ones, national heroes, saints, etc., are randomly scattered throughout the area. If one is lucky enough to visit the hill on a windy day, the rosaries, bells, and other hanging tributes chime musically, which has been described as a surreal experience by many.
The city of Šiauliai is located near the border with Latvia. You can get there using a tour bus, which starts from Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital. Once you reach Šiauliai, ask for the Hill of Crosses (local name is Kryziu Kalnas). At the hill, do not take anything as a souvenir, You are expected to be quiet and respectful while you explore the labyrinth of paths and stairs on the hill.
The hill has a number of legends associated with its origin and its religious significance:
- Myth 1: The first legend states, that, a man had a daughter whom he loved dearly. However, she unfortunately fell very ill. Despite putting in a lot of effort and trying all sorts of medicines and healers, there was no sign of improvement in her health. One night, while the man slept, he dreamed that a woman in white advised him to make a wooden cross and erect it on a particular hill as a sign of devotion to god. This would cure the daughter of her ailment. Desperate, the man followed the advice. However, because the cross was big and heavy, it took him several hours to take it to the hill, where he erected it and prayed. When he returned home, he found that his daughter had recovered. The story of the miracle soon spread like wildfire, and more and more people erected crosses of their own in hopes of divine intervention, creating the Hill of Crosses.
- Myth 2: Another legend states that, Virgin Mary appeared with Baby Jesus on the hill sometime during the 1870s, and encouraged the locals to erect crosses at this spot.
- Myth 3: It is believed that, a long time ago, a large battle was fought at the area of the hill. After the battle, the dead were covered with soil by their friends, forming the hill, and crosses were erected to consecrate the place as a sacred ground.
- Myth 4: Another legend tells us that, a church used to exist in the location of the hill. However, the church and the people in it disappeared after a huge storm hit the area. Nowadays, on Easter, one can see a procession of people going around the hill in honor of the people in the church. The bloody history of Lithuania and these legends gave rise to belief that the Hill of Crosses is haunted.