In 1831 in Lithuania, simple hill covered with weeds was transformed into a memorial to those who had been killed or deported to Siberia during an anti-Russian uprising. People began to put up crosses and soon hundreds of crosses covered the hill. During subsequent wars and persecution crosses on the hill continued to multiply over the years.
The Soviet Era (1940-1990)
After WWII when the Soviet authorities took power in Lithuania, people’s freedom to worship was severely curtailed. Again people were sent to cold and miserable conditions in the work camps of Siberia for minor disobediences. As crosses appeared on the hill, the new Communist government declared the place ‘forbidden’ and trespassers were punished. At one point authorities destroyed the crosses in order to extinguish the ‘ religious fanaticism’.
In 1956 people started to return home from Siberia. In thanks to God for their return and in memory of the torture they underwent, they again planted crosses on the hill. The site not only symbolized resistance to violence but also their faith in God.
In 1961 the Soviet government bulldozed the area, burned the wooden crosses and buried the stone crosses. The government destroyed the hill four times. Once in frustration at the appearance of new crosses they flooded the area turning the hill into an island. One cross was put up with the inscription ‘Jesus, do not punish the villains for they do not know what they are doing.”
A Place for Pilgrims and Tourists
After the end of Communist rule in Lithuania (1990)the Hill of Crosses continued to grow. Today pilgrims and tourists from all over the world come to see this emotional site. Many visitors leave a cross behind as a prayer for someone. The total number of crosses is estimated at 100,000 but that number increases every day. In 1993 Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass at the site and left a cross.
The Hill of Crosses is both a symbol of heroic resistance to Communist atheism and a symbol of Lithuanian faith in God and freedom.
The Hill of Crosses is located northwest of Vilnius near the city of ƾiauliai. Within walking distance is a large Franciscan Monastery (built in 2000) where Masses are regularly held.
Wright, Kevin J. Catholic Shrines of Central and Eastern Europe. Liguori, Miss: Liguori Publications. 1999
Varanka, Antanas. Kryziu Kalnas (Hill of Crosses). Vilnius:Leidykla Anvara. 2009