Hill of Crosses Lithuania’s haven of peace

By  Eero Sorila, Catholic Register Special
  • April 20, 2011
The Hill of Crosses in Lithuania is a well known destination for pilgrims especially at Easter time. Here, a mother with her two children are on a pilgrimage to the hill. (Photo by Eero Sorila)SIAULIA, LITHUANIA - The Hill of Crosses in Lithuania is a unique travel destination, especially at Easter time.

Three-and-a-half hours drive north from the capital Vilnus takes you to Siaulia. The pastoral scenery along the way is peacefully soothing. A little further turning left at a sign to Kryziu Kalnas, a country road will take you two kilometres to an unusual sight.

A hill, which in the past served as a military stronghold, is now a haven of peace. It strikes a musical chord of sad and happy sounds like a giant harp as the  northeast wind blows. Thousands of small crosses rub the bases of big crosses, like plucking the strings of a harp. The sad sounds are a reminder of 1831-1863 when crosses were installed in memory of those who were exiled and murdered in Siberia for opposing Russia’s Tsarist rule. These sounds continued loudly during the time of the Soviet regime, 1917-1990.

During the Soviet era, the crosses served as symbols against atheism. At the same time they spoke strongly for the sentiments of Lithuanian nationalism.

The Hill of Crosses frustrated the controlling elite of the Soviet regime. They wanted to destroy the entire hill. Time after time Soviet soldiers were sent on “crusades” to smash and burn the crosses. The last attempt took place in 1975.

But all attempts to destroy the crosses failed. The Lithuanians who revered the message of the cross brought new crosses to replace the destroyed ones. This happened frequently during the night when the Soviet soldiers who guarded the hill had fallen asleep. The Lithuanian people risked their lives time after time while acting in accordance to their religious convictions.

The sound of the crosses like a giant harp powered by wind continue to proclaim the message of the cross, a happy sound. In 1993 Pope John Paul II confirmed the same by visiting the hill.

Today, the hill is a travel destination to multitudes of Lithuanians and to many foreigners. Many couples, following their wedding ceremony, come to place their own cross at the hill and to pray for blessings on their marriage.

The majority of pilgrims make their way to the Hill of Crosses at Easter time. Generally visitors place their own cross among the existing ones. Since 1831 thousands upon thousands of crosses have been placed on the hill.

Pathways have been built through the crosses which remind visitors of the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem.

This Easter marks the 180th year from the time when the first pilgrims visited the Hill of Crosses. Upon arriving at the site many focus first at the large wooden statue of Christ and then start up along a pathway to the Hill of Crosses.

(Sorila is a writer in Vancouver.)

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