Hill of Crosses


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A tradition in Lithuania of erecting crosses for various personal and even political reasons has resulted in this unique display of Christian faith known as the Hill of Crosses, visited in this photo by Pope John Paul II. AFP/Qetty Images.

Hill of Crosses (Lithuania)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

One of the most unique shrines in all of Christendom, the Hill of Crosses (Kryziu Kalnas) is a small hill upon which tens of thousands of Lithuanians have placed crosses, some as memorials to the dead, others as acts of political defiance, still others as celebrations of personal and national independence. Today the hill is a dense forest of crosses of all shapes and sizes.

The Hill of Crosses is located some ten miles north of Siauliai, Lithuania, almost to the Latvian border. It appears that the hill was originally a Pagan holy site, and that the tradition of placing crosses on the hill dates to the fourteenth century when Teutonic Knights controlled the region.

The modern development of the site as a place for individuals to make symbolic statements can be dated to the nineteenth century. In 1795 Russia took control of the area, which was not returned to Lithuania until 1918. In 1831–1832, the peasants attempted an unsuccessful revolt, and the first cluster of crosses was placed on the hill in their memory. By the end of the century there were some 150 large crosses, which grew to around 400 large crosses joined by thousands of smaller ones as World War II began.

After World War II, when the area was reincorporated into the Soviet Union, the hill became a symbol of Lithuanian nationalism. The small act of adding a cross to the hill became a way of opposing what was seen as Soviet occupation. Three times, the Soviet authorities leveled the hill (1961, 1973,and 1975) and destroyed the crosses. They converted the site into a waste and sewage dump. Pilgrims returned and rebuilt the site. Lithuania gained its independence with the fall of the Soviet Union, and in September 1993 Pope John Paul II visited the site to pay homage to the people who had maintained the hill over the years.

Historians have traced the phenomenon of the hill to a tradition of making wooden crosses that is an integral part of village piety and culture in Lithuania. The craft seems to have developed after the Christianization of the country in the fifteenth century, and today there are some 200 cross-crafting masters residing in Lithuania. Crosses are typically decorated with floral and geometric designs and statues of Christ or saints.

The typical Lithuanian crosses that originally decorated the hill have been joined by a spectrum of crosses from around the world, brought by pilgrims from many countries who have made the journey to Siauliai in recent decades.

Sources:

Dailadre, Ricardar. Kriziu Kalnas/The Mount of Crosses. Vilnius, Lithuania: Zurnales “Veidas,” 1993.