True Lithuania

Hill of Crosses

The most important place of interest in the area is the Hill of Crosses north of Šiauliai. Visited both by pilgrims and irreligious tourists this place is a remarkable symbol of Lithuanian peaceful resistance to the Soviet occupation. People used to bring crosses to a hill once crowned by a medieval castle. The atheist Soviet government used to tear all the crosses down and persecute the pilgrims, but very soon the crosses would spring up again, restoring the number to hundreds and thousands.

This Virgin Mary statue (erected by a visitor in 1994) became popular for pilgrimage as evident by many small crosses hanging on the large crosses that surround it. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

In 1990 when Lithuanian independence was restored 14 387 large crosses and 40 944 small crosses were counted, covering an area of 4602 square meters. By 2007 the number surpassed 200 000. In 1997 a Franciscan monastery was built next to the hill. The monastery chapel (open for visiting) has a large window with the hill visible in the background instead of altar paintings.

The atmosphere in the Hill of Crosses may be surreal. Thousands of large wooden crosses are used as platforms for many times that number of small ones, all of which beautifully chime in the wind. Most of them bear inscriptions with names of the people and their reasons for erecting the cross. There are crosses built by biker clubs, political parties, ordinary families, pilgrims from far away lands, priests and every other category of people you may imagine. They thank God or ask for his guidance, remember life-changing events, seek help for some particular groups of the population. The inscriptions are largely Lithuanian, but you may find those in countless other languages representing different Christian denominations. The crosses are eagerly erected up to this day as you can see in the recent dates inscribed on some of the crosses.

A part of the Hill of the Crosses in winter. In this season you may have the place all to yourself, meditate or pray with hundreds of thousands of little crosses chiming in the cold wind. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The tradition of erecting crosses here might have started under Imperial Russian rule in the mid-19th century. A legend tells that one person from Jurgaičiai promised God that he would build a cross on this hill in case his disease would pass. The disease passed and the man kept his promise - later to be followed by others. There are other stories, such as the one about a person whose daughter was ill and who received a vision that he should build a cross there. Whatever the reasons for its inception the place became an important pilgrimage site and erecting a cross here became a popular way to thank God.

The Lithuanian art of cross-crafting (kryždirbystė) is inscribed into the UNESCO list of immaterial world heritage. Not long ago most of Lithuania's roads were adorned by many large wooden crosses. Today there are few roadside crosses left but the Hill of Crosses is an important monument to this art. 50 of its crosses are regarded to be of major cultural significance.

Pope John Paul II visited the Hill of Crosses in 1993.

Click to learn more about Lithuania: Religious sites, Samogitia (Northwest), Šiauliai 8 Comments