Sunday, April 14, 2013

Hill of Crosses.

Hill of Crosses (Image by Wojsyl)

There are times when I see an image that just captivates me. This is one of those times. I came across images of the Hill of Crosses when I was researching things to see in Lithuania. I couldn't stop staring at the pictures as I scrolled through the collection.


The Hill of Crosses (Kryzių Kalnas in Lithuanian) is a pilgrimage site for Lithuanians, eighty percent of whom are Catholic.  Atop a small hill, located 12 kilometers north of the city of Siauliai, are an estimated one hundred crosses, giant crucifixes, carvings of Lithuanian patriots, statues of the Virgin Mary and thousands of tiny effigies and rosaries placed here by Catholic pilgrims.

The Hill of Crosses is a curious phenomenon. No one manages or organises it -- it just is.  It has, however, had a troubled and mysterious history that is tied to centuries of oppression suffered at the hands of invaders.
 
After the 3rd partition of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1795, Lithuania became part of the Russian Empire. Poles and Lithuanians unsuccessfully rebelled against Russian authorities in 1831 and 1863.  Although the precise origin of the practice of leaving crosses on the hill is uncertain, some historians believe that the first crosses were placed on the hill following the 1831 uprising against the Russians;  families could not locate bodies of perished loved ones so they started putting up symbolic crosses on the former Jurgaičiai or Domantai hill fort.

By 1895, there were at least 150 large crosses, in 1914 200, and by 1940 there were 400 large crosses surrounded by thousands of smaller ones.

From 1944–1990, when Lithuania was under Soviet occupation, Lithuanians used the site to demonstrate their allegiance to their original identity, religion and heritage. It was a venue of peaceful resistance, although three times, in 1961, 1973 and 1975, the hill was leveled, the crosses were burned or turned into scrap metal, and the area was covered with waste and sewage.  There were even rumors that Soviet authorities planned to build a dam on the nearby Kulvė River, a tributary to Mūša, so that the hill would end up under water. Following each destruction, local inhabitants and Catholic pilgrims from all over Lithuania would defiantly replace the crosses. 

Over the centuries, the site has come to signify the peaceful endurance of Lithuanian Catholicism despite the threats it has faced throughout history.  It's also a memorial to Lithuanian national identity.

Hill of Crosses is one of those places that I find a bit creepy but yet very fascinating.  According to several travel forum postings,  Siauliai is located about a two hour drive from Vilnius. I'm going to see if I can plan a day trip to Siauliai, with stops along the way to visit other spots in the Lithuanian countryside.  Should be interesting!