There are tens of thousands of crosses planted on a hillside in Lithuania. The Hill of Crosses (Kryžiu Kalnas) is located in northern Lithuania near Šiauliai – the fourth largest city in the country. No one knows for sure why the custom started, but the crosses began appearing in the 14th century. Over the years, pilgrims journeyed there to place their own cross on the hill.
The city of Siauliai was founded in 1236 and controlled by Teutonic Knights during the 14th century. The tradition of placing crosses seems to date from this period and may have risen as a symbol of Lithuanian defiance toward foreign invaders. Since the medieval period, the Hill of Crosses has represented the peaceful resistance of Lithuanian Catholicism to oppression. In 1795, Siauliai was incorporated into Russia but was returned to Lithuania in 1918. Many crosses were erected upon the hill after the peasant uprising of 1831-63. By 1895, there were at least 150 large crosses, in 1914, 200, and by 1940 there were 400 large crosses surrounded by thousands of smaller ones.
After being captured by Germany in World War II, the city suffered even more damage when Soviet Russia retook it at the war’s end. From 1944 until Lithuania’s independence in 1991, Siauliai was a part of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic. During the Soviet era, the pilgrimage to the Hill of Crosses became expression of Lithuanian nationalism. The Soviets repeatedly removed the crosses placed on the hill by Lithuanians.
The hill was leveled three times: during 1961, 1973 and 1975. The crosses were burned or turned into scrap metal, and the area was covered with waste and sewage. Following each of these agonizing experiences local inhabitants and pilgrims from all over Lithuania rapidly replaced crosses upon the sacred hill. In 1985, the Hill of Crosses finally found peace. The reputation of the hill has since spread all over the world and every year it is visited by many thousands of visitors.
The size and variety of crosses is as amazing as their number. Beautifully carved out of wood or sculpted from metal, the crosses range from three meters tall to the countless tiny examples hanging profusely upon the larger crosses.
It is a wonder that the instrument of torture on which Jesus died has become the greatest symbol of Christian hope.
He is Risen.