How to visit the hill of crosses in Lithuania
The Hill of Crosses, also known as Kryžių Kalnas, is shrouded in mystery regarding its origins. Located outside the northern city of Šiauliai, Lithuania, this pilgrimage site has become home to thousands of metal and wooden crosses placed here for almost two centuries, making it a growing mound of religious fervour. The blowing wind produces a rolling soundtrack of dangling rosaries, while icons of saints and photographs of revered local patriots add to the spiritual atmosphere. Despite several attempts to destroy the Hill of Crosses, it has endured and remains a powerful testament to devotion.
Legends and fables are intertwined with the history of the Hill of Crosses. Although it was first mentioned in writing in 1850, some believe the crosses appeared earlier, left by mourning relatives of the victims of revolts against the Russian regime in 1831 and later in 1863. The tsar suppressed national identity by limiting religious expression, so families were forbidden to honour the dead with proper burial in cemeteries. It is believed by many that the crosses began to appear in the late 19th century after an apparition of the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus asked believers to cover the holy place with these icons.
The Hill of Crosses uniquely represents Lithuania's national and religious identity.
The craft of carving religious icons has been passed down through generations. UNESCO recognizes cross-making as an intangible cultural heritage of Lithuania, symbolizing national and religious identity and bringing the community together in times of adversity. During the Soviet era, religion was banned, and the Hill of Crosses was off-limits. In April 1961, the authorities bulldozed and burned down the entire site. However, despite the Hill of Crosses being destroyed four more times, locals took significant risks by secretly rebuilding the site under darkness in defiance of the political dangers.
Since gaining independence in 1991, religion in Lithuania has been practised freely and openly. However, due to a rural exodus from villages and rural areas, fewer young people can learn the craft of cross-making. No one currently holds jurisdiction over the Hill of Crosses, with various organizations and individual volunteers pooling their resources to maintain the site. Despite an uncertain future, the Hill of Crosses welcomes tourists, offering them a deeper understanding of the local community's complicated past, providing insight into its unshakable faith, and instilling hope for the future.