One of the strangest, eerie places I have ever been to is Kryžių kalnas, or the Hill of Crosses, a pilgrimage site about 12 km north of Šiauliai, Lithuania. I was speechless, torn between wonder and disbelief, awe and unease.
It all starts in the 14th century when locals leave crosses on the former Domantai hill fort to remember a successful battle against the German knights. During the centuries to come, the hill becomes a sanctuary for Christians to signify the peaceful endurance of Lithuanian Catholicism.
Symbol of resistance
In the 19th century, after the two uprisings of 1831 and 1863, the place grows into a national symbol of resistance. Families start putting up symbolic crosses, to represent the bodies of their perished rebels. The number of crucifixes and other religious icons increases rapidly, well into the first years of Soviet domination.
Three times the Soviets decide to level Kryžių kalnas to the ground. Three times the people defy the strict ban of religion and severe surveillance, and leave their religious icons under cover of the night. They erect not only new crosses but also crucifixes, carvings of the Virgin Mary and of Lithuanian patriots. Cross-making has by now become part of the cultural heritage of Lithuania, a ‘symbol of national and religious identity, uniting the community in the face of adversity’.
In 1993 Pope John Paul II visits the Hill of Crosses and declares it a place for hope, peace, love, and sacrifice. In 2000 a Franciscan hermitage is opened nearby.
Number of crosses
1800’s over 9,000
1938 over 400
1961 destroyed 5,000
1975 destroyed 1,200
1990 some 55,000
2006 over 100,000
And there’s no stopping it now. Today the amount is incomprehensible. Buses spew their loads into the parking lot, where stalls sell crosses in all sizes to the modern pilgrims. Ready-made symbols of worship contest with huge personal sculptures.
Sit back and watch
I left the stream of tourists and found my way to the outer edge of the hill. Away from the masses. Away from the overwhelming impressions. Away from the ghosts. Please take a moment and watch, listen, feel…
Wikipedia: Hill of Crosses