In my opinion, a true act of defiance! This stunningly curious place in Lithuania is a place of pilgrimage for Catholics but it is also a place that represents a marvelous dedication to faith and memory. Some visitors are taken aback by the sheer number of crosses on this hill and even consider it to be a bit creepy but it might just appear that way to some. So to start, how about we do what all good curiosities start: ask a question! How did this all happen? Why is it so very curiously special? The answer is actually not that old.
The exact reason and date of when the first crosses were laid is not documented – however, historians best guess is that it all happened after the 1831 Uprising which resulted in families putting up these crosses for their lost loved ones, many of whose bodies were never recovered. The Russification (sort of like making them more Russian) of Lithuania was underway where they banned the press, learning institutions and even tried to change the name of the region the Northwestern Krai. But the Lithuanians still defied the restrictions through book smuggling and home schooling.
After the fall of the Eastern Europe’s political powers in 1918 (Romanov and Rasputin and all that) Lithuania was happy to have back their identity. They went to the hill to erect crosses, statues and tributes to all their fallen families and prayed for their homeland. Sadly, this was short lived and the real beginning of the importance of the hill to Lithuanians began just a few decades later.
Before the start of World War II and the Nazi occupation which left almost all of Lithuania’s Jewish population to suffer the Holocaust, The Soviet Union was attempting the final stages of a forced annexation. After the German’s retreat, Lithuania suffered again with a complete sovietization where many people were sent to Siberia. They fought…and lost.
With Communism in full swing, the hill began to be filled more and more with crosses and visited frequently to allow devout Catholics a way to worship without censure. The Soviets did not agree kindly to this at all since religion was forbidden. There had been at least two attempts to destroy the hill by the KGB via bulldozing the crosses to the ground. There were even plans to construct a dam to flood the area so that no one could put the crosses up again! So from then until 1990, after the fall of the Soviet Union, Lithuania has had to build back up the hill two times!
But, as soon as Lithuania was recognized as a independent country in 1990 the hill is a site of pilgrimage for many Catholics as well as a symbol of national identity. Today, there are as many as 200,000 crosses, statues, carvings and shrines made from wood and metal scattered all over this sacred site. Though there may be similar sites like this one all over the world, Lithuania has a unique past surrounding this that revolves around national pride and the perseverance of freedom and faith.