Pathway flanked by crosses at Siauliai Hill, Lithuania. Pathway flanked by crosses at Siauliai Hill, Lithuania.

The Magnificent Hill of Crosses in Lithuania

Several mesmerizing places in the world just leave you in awe, but often we don’t realize the dark history surrounding the evolution of the same. One such place we will be talking about today is the Hill of Crosses in Lithuania.

Visiting the Kryi Kalnas, or Hill of Crosses, is a truly breathtaking experience. This sacred monument has a remarkable past and represents the Lithuanian people’s tranquil perseverance and devotion.

The Hill of Crosses is the Lithuanian national pilgrim location, located 12 kilometres north of the little industrial region of Siauliai.

Several hundred thousand crosses signify Christian devotion and serve as an ode to the national identity of Lithuanians on a tiny hill. Read on to know its history, evolution, tradition, and more!

Metal cross atop the hill
Photo by Andrius on Unlimphotos

Who Made the Hill of Crosses?

Siauliai had been established in 1236 and was taken over by Teutonic Knights in the 14th century. The practice of planting crosses stems from this period and was most likely started as an emblem of Lithuanian resistance to foreign invaders.

During the Middle Ages, the hill symbolized Lithuanian Catholicism’s nonviolent resistance against oppression. Siauliai was annexed by Russia in 1795 but was handed back in 1918.

Following the peasant revolt of 1831-63, many crosses were put up on the hill. By 1895, there had been at least 150 huge crosses, 200 by 1914, and 400 by 1940, encircled by countless smaller ones.

After being occupied by Germany during WWII, the city was heavily damaged when Russian Soviet troops recaptured it at the end of the war.

Siauliai was a member of the USSR from 1944 until Lithuania’s freedom in 1991. The procession to the hill was an important display of Lithuanian patriotism during the Soviet era.

crosses kept by visitors
Photo by ints on Unlimphotos

History and Evolution of the Ancient Marvel

The famous Hill of Crosses in Lithuania is both an emblem of defiance and a sacred place. On this low hill, more than one hundred thousand crosses have been set up many of which are laced with beads from the rosary that rustle quietly in the breeze.

The custom began after the 1831 Rebellion and peaked in the 1960s, in opposition to anti-religious Soviet control. The inhabitants crept here at night to lay crosses, perplexing their captors.

Despite the high penalties for being caught, repeated attempts to demolish the hill in the 1960s and 1970s did not prevent villagers from establishing crosses here. Today, removing a cross from the site is prohibited, and visitors of any kind can put down a cross on the hill.

Close to the visitor center, numerous sellers sell basic wooden crosses and lend marker pens for people to write their family’s name, hymns, or wishes over the cross before setting it on the ground.

Authentic Lithuanian koplytstulpis, carvings of a figure capped with a small roof made of wood, and exquisite statues of the Sorrowful Christ, Rpintojlis, can be found among the crosses.

If you want to add some of your own, souvenir vendors in the parking lot sell crosses in various sizes. Many of the crossings are spiritual, while others are relics. They differ in size and can be complemented by sombre figures of the Virgin Mary.

The devoted people travel long distances, you may also notice a tribute to the victims of 9/11 and others to Ukrainians fallen in the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

Carving religious symbols is a custom that has been passed down through centuries. Cross-making is recognized by UNESCO as a unique cultural object of Lithuania, as a “symbol of national and religious identity,” unifying communities in the face of suffering.

three crosses vertical on the hill
Photo by Galdzer on Unlimphotos

The View of the Hill of Crosses

A route from the hill descends to a modern chapel with the sight of the crosses magnificently set in the staggering pane at the altar.

Myths abound around the hill, some locals believe the mound hides the corpses of 14th-century combatants, while others believe it is cursed by monks. The hill was most likely a pre-Christian sacred location.

A glimpse of the cross-swamped hillside from within the church of the contemporary brick monastery can also be seen. It was constructed atop the summit between 1997 to 2000 and now houses roughly twelve Franciscan monks.

The late Pope John Paul II proposed the monastery after exploring the hill in 1993 and saying that he would want to see an altar of worship there.

The beautiful setting of the Hill of Crosses viewed via the ceiling-to-floor window beyond the altar in the chapel is quite touching; it was designed by Italian architect Angelo Polesello.

The Tradition Followed Since Time Immemorial

The hill has been invaded and somewhat damaged several times through the course of time, damaging several crosses. Nonetheless, it endured and is now a tribute to the perseverance of a repressed people—a remarkable beacon of hope.

There are almost 200,000 individual crosses on the hill, but the numbers increase with each passing year. The figure has increased dramatically in the past few years, while it was only about 55,000 crosses in 1990.

Trinity crosses was made in 1849 by the citizens of the village Prameny. They were made as a thank you for healing.
Photo by Mibuch on Unlimphotos

You have the chance to contribute to increasing this figure even more. To keep things authentic to Lithuania, you must purchase a gorgeous cross created by a local.

Even if you are not Lithuanian, you are welcome to take part in the ritual of placing your cross on the hill. And it is because of this habit that the hill now boasts such a startling number of crosses.

The crosses range in height from three meters to little sculptures neatly positioned on the ground. The majority of the symbols are crafted out of wood. However, there are several metal works of art as well.

Regardless of the terrifying sight and the freezing wind that occasionally blows on the summit, it is a lovely sight. Several individuals pay their respects to their departed loved ones and some hope that their wishes will be fulfilled.

The magnitude and range of crossings are as astounding as their sheer quantity. A visit to the significant hill for an hour will reveal symbols placed by several pilgrims from all over the globe.

The bigger crosses are adorned with rosaries, images of Jesus and holy men, and portraits of Lithuanian martyrs. Winds flowing through a canopy of symbols and dangling rosaries make a unique and wonderful symphony on stormy days.

Special Must-View Things on the Hill

While exploring the site, keep an eye out for two essential crosses. The first is a crucifix depicting a sitting Jesus praying secretly under a canopy. His mournful countenance depicts the numerous Catholics who endured being compelled to pray in private by the Russian regime.

The second unique cross, which sits front and center when visiting the hill, was gifted by John Paul II after his journey there in 1993. It’s a big metal cross on a marble base.

The base bears an inscription from Pope Francis thanking the Lithuanian citizens for having confidence in the Church. The hill is a hauntingly beautiful location that also offers a story about Lithuanian historical and cultural heritage.

As an emblem of rebellion, it informs tourists about the tyranny endured by the Lithuanian people, as well as the political reign under which they lived. It is a historical landmark and an excellent experience for sure.

details of bells and crosses on the hill
Photo by martinm303 on Unlimphotos

How to Visit the Hill of Crosses in Lithuania

The hill lies approximately 220 kilometres from the center of Vilnius. If you intend to commute by car, it will require approximately two hours and thirty minutes via key routes with no traffic.

It’s further two kilometres east on Highway A12, take a bus to the ‘Domantai’ station and travel by foot for about 20 minutes, or take a taxi (approximately €20) from Iauliai.

The Hill of Crosses is a three-hour bike ride out and back, largely via paved bike routes to the far end of the main roadway. The tourist office rents bikes for €1.50 per hour and will show you the route for your ease.

For ease, you can simply book a tour beforehand.

EndNote

The precise beginnings of the Hill of Crosses are unknown, but numerous wooden and metal crosses have been set on the expanding pile of religious fervour close to the northern town of Iauliai for almost two centuries.

Hanging rosaries ring in the breeze, providing a rolling companion for saint icons and photos of beloved local patriots.

Regardless of numerous attempts to demolish it, this unique pilgrim point stands as a powerful tribute to the commitment of the locals, you have a chance to visit and contribute to this amazing marvel’s growth even more. Have fun travelling!

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Why is the Hill of Crosses famous?

Post-freedom from the Soviets, as families were unable to find the bodies of fallen rebels, they began erecting memorial crosses at the spot of a historic hill fort.

It gained popularity once Pope John Paul II travelled to the Hill of Crosses on September 7, 1993.

2. How many crosses are in Hill of Crosses Lithuania?

On this tiny yet infamous hill, over 100,000 symbols have been put down many of which are laced with beads from the rosary that rustle quietly in the breeze.

3. How old is the Hill of Crosses in Lithuania?

The crosses were first mentioned in literature in 1850, but others believe they existed earlier, placed by mourning families of the casualties of war in 1831 and subsequently in 1863.

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