by Andy Paolacci,
Undoubtedly, the Lithuanian culture of persistence and fight under oppression can easily be summed up in Šiauliai’s little secret, the Hill of Crosses. Approximately 12km north of the northern Lithuanian city of Šiauliai lies the Hill of Crosses. Each year, tens of thousands of Christians from all over the world make the pilgrimage to this mystifying collection of crucificial dedications, memorials and spiritual masterpieces to commemorate the fallen victims of war, subjugation and persecution.
Despite the eerie ambiance it exudes, witnessing this compelling hillock will leave you with a sense of privilege that only history could develop. Furthermore, the sound which resonates off the jingling of the crosses in the breeze is indisputably bone-chilling. While not considered extreme, the Hill of Crosses is not for the faint-hearted.
The History of the Hill of Crosses
Known to the locals as Kryžiu Kalnas, the Hill of Crosses was unintentionally created by the Lithuanians during the two unsuccessful uprisings against Russian occupation in 1831 and 1863. To commemorate the fallen soldiers who couldn’t be recovered, locals planted crosses on the site of a former elevated Lithuanian fortification upon the hillock that now stands as the Hill of Crosses.
Following the disintegration of the Soviet stranglehold over the Baltic States (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia) in 1918, Lithuanians embraced the Hill of Crosses as a place of prayer for amity, their departed countrymen and women, and also for the prosperity of their newly independent homeland.
Lithuania again had its independence annexed by the Russians in 1944; and it was not until 1991 that the Soviets recognized Lithuania as an independent nation once more. During this time, Lithuanians persisted in erecting devotional crosses upon the hillock despite the Soviets’ efforts to bulldoze them down. In fact, often, local residents would risk their lives by sneaking past soldiers and under barbed wire to plant more crosses in an effort to articulate their commitment to the nation and its people.
Two years later after Lithuania’s sovereignty, Pope John Paul II made the pilgrimage to the Hill of Crosses on 7 September 1993 to be exact, where he proclaimed the sight a place for hope, peace, love and sacrifice. In 2006, an estimate of approximately 100,000 crosses, effigies and other tributes were believed to be standing at the Hill of Crosses giving rise to the site’s spiritual captivation.
Getting to the Hill of Crosses
To journey to the Hill of Crosses from either Vilnius, Kaunas, Klaipeda or Riga via bus or train will take you at least two and a half to three hours, so your best bet is assigning a whole day to observing the Hill of Crosses in the flesh. Better still, staying at the nearby city of Šiauliai and making your way to the Hill of Crosses from there will be a lot less time-consuming.
To venture to the Hill of Crosses from Šiauliai, one can hire a bike from the Šiauliai Tourist Centre and ride to the sight itself for only a handful of Litas. However, if you wish to skip the aerobic activity, one can ride a taxi or take the bus to the Hill of Crosses; yet, taking the bus is the highly advisable option from a financial perspective.