Hill of Crosses: Lithuanian Landmark, Story of Hope, Defiance, Faith & Freedom [PICS]

March 27th, 2015 Permalink

Nearly 185 years ago, Lithuanians placed the first crosses on this hill which has become a sacred pilgrimage site. After researching the Hill of Crosses, we’d like to tell you the story of the people and site as it’s become a symbol of hope, of religious perseverance, of faith and even of freedom for Lithuanian people. [65 Photos]

Hill of Crosses on a sunny day

Hill of Crosses on a sunny day in Lithuania. Some estimates say there are 100,000 crosses on this hill, but that seems like a low estimate for this pilgrimage site that is packed with crosses, statues, carvings, rosaries and other offerings and mementos. Photo #1 by Expectmohr

Crosses up the hill in Lithuania

“Easter says you can put truth in a grave, but it won’t stay there,” ~ quote by Clarence W. Hall. During Easter week, the Hill of Crosses pilgrimage site is especially busy; the first crosses were placed here 184 years ago by Lithuanian relatives of victims killed during an anti-Russian uprising in 1831. An estimated 10,000 to 20,000 insurgents lost their lives in the uprising. Many loved ones placed a cross on the hill if they could not find the bodies. From that time to 1975, Soviets tried to destroy this site over and over again; yet Lithuanians continued to place crosses here. Photo #2 by David Iliff

Heaping crosses at Hill of Crosses

The USSR banned religion and deported hundreds of thousands of Lithuanians to Siberia; Soviet occupiers bulldozed the Hill of Crosses, posted KGB guards and used barricades to stop Lithuanians from placing crosses here. Yet locals would sneak in during the night and leave crosses on the hill. There are now heaping crosses at the Hill of Crosses. Photo #3 by BestofDanSilver & #4 by Tania Ho

The Hill of Crosses

Since at least the 19th century when Lithuania became a part of the Russian Empire, crosses have been a symbol of the Lithuanian people. Cross-crafting is an important part of Lithuanian culture. Designs are often intricate and Lithuanian cross-crafting was enrolled into the list of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity of 2001 by UNESCO. Photo #5 by Ian Britton

Lithuania sacred site

According to written documentation, in 1850 there were about 20 crosses on the hill. More were added when relatives couldn’t find the bodies of their loved ones. By 1900, there were about 130, then 155 by 1914. 200 crosses and chapel in 1923. 1,000 adorned the hill even though there was a ban on the construction of a cross or to make a pilgrimage to the hill. Photo #6 by iwishmynamewasmarsha

July at Hill of Crosses

The custom of placing crosses here “began after the 1831 Uprising of the Polish and Lithuanians Armies against the Russians. After the battle, the Lithuanians were often unable to find the body of their loved ones so they began placing a cross on the fort hill and pray for their souls. This custom continues to this day.” Photo #7 by Ryan

Lithuania's Hill of Crosses

Of the cross-crafting, Wikipedia explained, “The stylized crosses, Lietuviškasis kryžius, are put up along roadsides, in cemeteries, near houses and as votive offerings in churches. The crosses combine elements of architecture, sculpture, blacksmith art, and painting. One to five meters high, they often feature floral or geometric symbols, motifs of the sun, birds and the tree of life; they are sometimes adorned with small statues. To plead for grace or to express gratitude, the crosses are built as memorials to the dead or as the signs of spiritual protection at certain places. Even today crosses, are built to mark the places of former settlements or farmsteads, places of death by homicide or accident, in memory of deceased people or groups of people, significant events and anniversaries, as a protection for road travelers and adornment of sacred sites. The Hill of Crosses holds a large collection of the pieces.” Photo #8 by patrina_io

Crosses on the hill

Pope John Paul II visited the Hill of Crosses in 1993; tens of thousands of Lithuanians turned out to greet the Pope when he stopped to pray at the Hill of Crosses. He told the congregation, “Thank you, Lithuanians, for this Hill of Crosses which testifies to the nations of Europe and to the whole world the faith of the people of this land.” Photo #9 by Diego Delso

Hill of Crosses at night

By 2007, there were over 200,000 crosses on the Hill of Crosses. Wikipedia noted there were 200,000 by 2006. Photo #10 by Mindaugas Macaitis

Crosses, beads, a snail

To fully understand the Hill of Crosses, you need to know some facts about Lithuania history. “A powerful state in its own right at its peak in the 14th to 16th centuries, Lithuania subsequently fell under the Polish then Soviet yoke. Bar a brief interwar period of independence, Lithuania was not independent again until 1991.” Photo #11 by patrina_io

Likeness of Jesus at Hill of Crosses

Lithuania was “annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940 and remained under Soviet rule for nearly half a century. The Soviets made drastic reforms in all the Baltic States. These reforms also provided the Soviets with much needed materials during the Second World War and helped the spread of their communist ideology to neighboring countries. For Lithuania, this process was marked by retarded agricultural production and an extreme concentration on the growth of heavy industry.” Photo #12 by Ryan & #13 by Thomas Stegh

Carvings on crosses

According to research conducted through the Genocide and Resistance Research Center of Lithuania, “the string of tragedies began in August 1939, when Hitler and Stalin concluded a cynical agreement that divided up Central Europe between the two totalitarian countries. According to the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, Lithuania was to fall into the Soviet zone of influence.” Photo #14 by Dezidor

Photo of Christ among the crucifixes

“After the outbreak of the Second World War, Lithuania was occupied three times: first by the USSR in 1940, then by Nazi Germany in 1941, and finally by the USSR again in 1944…During Nazi and Soviet occupations, including 200,000 Holocaust victims, the losses of the population of Lithuania amounted to 33% of the total number of the country’s population in 1940. Lithuania lost 1 million people to deportations, executions, incarceration, the murder of the political opposition and forced emigration.” Photo #15 by Guillaume Speurt


“Siberia was the major destination of Lithuanian prisoners. Altogether, some 600,000 prisoners were taken from the Soviet occupied Baltic states – Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. There were some 10 million inhabitants in all three Baltic states on the eve of the Soviet occupation.” Photo #16 by Tim Pritlove & #17 by Ryan

Lithuania at Hill of Crosses

“Proportionately, the number of Baltic prisoners would be equal to a loss of 20 million in the United States or 5 million in Great Britain.” Photo #18 by iwishmynamewasmarsha

Steps up the Hill of Crosses

“There were several big waves of mass deportations to Siberia. There were some differences between them. In 1940-1941, the Soviet’s task was decapitation of the Lithuanian nation by annihilating its cultural and political elite.” Photo #19 by Guillaume Speurt

Crowded with crosses at Hill of Crosses

“Arrests and deportations, executed by the Soviets and local collaborators, started soon after Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union on June 15, 1940 and even before official incorporation of Lithuania into the USSR on August 3, 1940.” Photo #20 by Adrien & #21 by Diego Delso

Hill of Crosses pilgrimage site near siauliai, in the north of Lithuania

In “October and November, 1940, the Soviets ordered to draw up lists of ‘anti-Soviet elements’. This term included a wide spectrum of people: 1. Members of non-communist parties, including heretical communists.” Photo #22 by Diego Delso

Ex Soviet Europe

#2 on the “anti-Soviet elements” list was “members of patriotic and religious organizations;” #3 was “former police and prison officials.” Photo #23 by Stefan Krasowski

Stairway up Hill of Crosses

#4 was “former officers of tsarist and other armies; #5 was former officers of the Lithuanian and Polish armies. #6 was former volunteers who had joined anti-Soviet armies in 1918-1919.” Photo #24 by yeowatzup

altar pavillon at the Hill of Crosses

Altar pavilion at the Hill of Crosses, “built in 1993 for a service of pope Johannes Paul II. In the foreground a cross with a Jesus figure donated by the Vatican in 1994.” Photo #25 by Mosiva

Crosses at Hill of Crosses

#7 on the “anti-Soviet elements” list of people to round up and deport to Siberia: “Citizens of foreign states, representatives and employees of foreign firms, and employees of foreign embassies.” Photo #26 by Ryan

Crosses and statues at Siauliai

#8 was “those who corresponded with foreign countries or consulates of foreign countries as well as philatelists and those who know the Esperanto language.” Photo #27 by Martijn.Munneke & #28 by Martijn.Munneke

Rosaries and crosses

#9 was “former high level officials; #10 was Red Cross employees and émigrés from Poland; #11 was clergymen of all religions; #12 was bankers, members of aristocratic families and rich farmers.” Photo #29 by yeowatzup

Crucifixes and crosses

Again as cited from Siberia: Mass Deportations from Lithuania to the USSR: “The total number of persons registered as “anti-Soviet elements” reached 320,000 entries. There were teachers and professors, school and college students, farmers, industry workers and craftsmen among them.” Photo #30 by Expectmohr & #31 by Expectmohr

Crosses left by pilgrims Hill of Crosses

“June 14-18, 1941 were the dark days of the first massive arrest and deportation of the Lithuanian population. A cargo of 16,246 people were crammed into cattle cars. Moscow’s instruction required separate men from their families. So, 3,915 men were separated and transported to concentration camps in the Krasnoyarsk territory while 12,331 women, children and elderly people were transported to the Altai Mountains territory, the Komi republic and to the Tomsk region.” Photo #32 by Ryan

pilgrimage stop

Loved ones would place a cross on the hill. “40% of deportees were children below 16 years old. More than half of the deported died quickly. Pregnant women and babies born in the cattle cars were the first victims – they died in the trains. The deportation process was interrupted by the German-Soviet war.” Photo #33 by Stefan Krasowski

In this sign you will conquer

“The situation changed in 1948. The most extensive deportation from Lithuania was held on May 22 and 23, 1948. Over these two days 12,100 families, numbering over 41,000 people, were seized from their homes and exiled.” Photo #34 by dr. avishai teicher

Hill of Crosses near Siauliai

“In 1948, 50% of deportees were accused not of their relations with the armed guerillas. Their official guilt was their social class – they were owners of private farms. In 1949, already two-thirds of the deportees belonged to this category while in 1951 they absolutely dominated the Soviet secret police‘s statistics.” Photo #35 by Groundhopping Merseburg & #36 by Groundhopping Merseburg

Small offering at Hill of Crosses

“Mass deportations continued until the death of Josef Stalin in 1953.” Photo #37 by iwishmynamewasmarsha

Virgin on top of the Hill of Crosses, Lithuania

“How did the typical deportation look? The NKVD broke into an apartment or house and arrested all the family members. The NKVD marched them onto the back of a truck. In the railway station as far as the eye could see there were men and women clutching suitcases and bundles of hastily gathered clothing, the elderly and the disabled searching for places to sit and mothers holding their children, all surrounded by Red Army soldiers brandishing weapons.” Photo #38 by Diego Delso & #39 by blue_quartz

Sacred sight in Lithuania

In 1959 and 1961, Soviet authorities issued decrees banning the construction of crosses and started cleansing via destroying crosses on this hill. 400 crosses were demolished at least three times, twice in 1974. By 1976, Soviets “not only destroyed all standing crosses, but also mined part of the same hill.” Photo #40 by Serguei

Pope called it a place for hope, peace, love and sacrifice

The Pope called Hill of Crosses a place for hope, peace, love and sacrifice. Photo #41 by Beth

Statues and crosses at Hill of Crosses

Easter quote by Douglas Horton ~ “On Easter Day the veil between time and eternity thins to gossamer.” Photo #42 by Ryan

Thousands of crosses at Hill of Crosses

“The resurrection gives my life meaning and direction and the opportunity to start over no matter what my circumstances,” ~ quote by Robert Flatt. Photo #43 by Ryan

Tradition of placing crosses dates from 14th century

“Jesus did not die just to save you from hell. He paid the price to give you all of heaven,” quote by Carlos A. Rodriguez. Photo #44 by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra

The Hill

John Adams, wrote in a letter to Thomas Jefferson on September 3, 1816: “I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved – the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced! With the rational respect that is due to it, knavish priests have added prostitutions of it, that fill or might fill the blackest and bloodiest pages of human history.” Photo #45 by Pudelek (Marcin Szala)

Jesus on the cross and Siauliai, artigianal cross

There were 5,000 crosses destroyed in 1961 and 1,200 more demolished in 1975. Photo #46 by iwishmynamewasmarsha & #47 by Andrea Paraggio

Cross with a red heart

Nowadays, crosses are placed on the hill by visitors from all over the world. The Hill of Crosses is about 60 meters (about 196 feet) long and about 40 to 50 meters (131 – 164 ft ) wide. Photo #48 by Ian Britton

Hill of Crosses in black and white

“There are several theories on how these hills developed; it has become a sort of legend. One story is that in the thirteenth century, when Lithuania was mostly Pagan and before it had been Christianized, a group of Pagans burned down a church on that spot. The remnants formed two hills and as a memorial to the priests of that church people started placing Crosses there. Many variations to this story exist, such as two Christian crusaders were passing by and were killed at that spot, as opposed to there ever being a church there. These legends, similar to other such stories, were most likely formulated to evoke feelings of national unity and pride.” Photo #49 by Guillaume Speurt

Depiction of Jesus at Hill of Crosses

“The Soviet government could not tolerate such spiritual expression and in 1961 completely destroyed the hill. All the Crosses were bulldozed and then burned or recycled (such as in the case of metal Crosses). Still people kept coming and placing Crosses there and the Soviets demolished the area again in 1973 and once more in 1975. At one point they even flooded the place, turning the hill into a virtual island. Usually, the men were put on separate trains. They usually were transported to prisons and the Gulags (concentration camps) while females, kids and the elderly were deported to live in God-forsaken settlements in Siberia….The site reportedly was and is purely a place for Lithuanian Catholics to commemorate their dead.” Photo #50 by iwishmynamewasmarsha

Crucifixion at Hill of Crosses

It is reportedly “hard to imagine so many crosses in one place. But all these crosses tell us about personal and public misfortunes and catastrophes. For example one cross was put after the wreck of the ferry ‘Estonia’….Each visitor tries to leave a cross or a rosary. If he has not brought any, he makes one right on the hill, from pebbles, little branches or grass.” Photo #51 by iwishmynamewasmarsha & #52 by Hans Zinsli

Siauliai, hill of crosses

Closely related to cross-carving (kryždirbystė) is an art of “god carving” by dievdirbys, “Lithuanian wood carvers who creates statues of Jesus and the Christian saints.” Photo #53 by Andrea Paraggio

Jesus on the Cross, Hill of Crosses

Sacred Sites noted, “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.” Photo #54 by iwishmynamewasmarsha

Winter at Siauliai Hill of Crosses

” An hour spent upon the sacred hill will reveal crosses brought by Christian pilgrims from all around the world. Rosaries, pictures of Jesus and the saints, and photographs of Lithuanian patriots also decorate the larger crosses. On windy days breezes blowing through the forest of crosses and hanging rosaries produces a uniquely beautiful music.” Photo #55 by TimoM

Hill of Crosses, Siauliai, Lithuania

Wikipedia added, “Over the centuries, not only crosses, but giant crucifixes, carvings of Lithuanian patriots, statues of the Virgin Mary and thousands of tiny effigies and rosaries have been brought here by Catholic pilgrims. The exact number of crosses is unknown.” Photo #56 by Peter Collins

Mary at the Hill of Crosses

“It is a common tradition for visitors to leave behind a cross and a prayer. Sacred objects such as crucifixes or rosaries can be purchased at various souvenir stands…The crosses placed here tell us about personal and public misfortunes and catastrophes. Every year thousands of people visit the Hill.” Photo #57 by Tania Ho

crosses appeared in memory of people taken to Siberia

“During Soviet times, crosses appeared in memory of those taken to Siberia.” Photo #58 by Beth & #59 by Groundhopping Merseburg

Hill of Crosses takes my breath away

The photographer added, “This place always takes my breath away.” Photo #60 by Send me adrift

Looking down from the Hill of Crosses

It’s difficult to known the number of crosses here on the hill near the small city of Siauliai (pronounced shoo-lay); the hill has become a Lithuanian national pilgrimage center. Different estimates of the number of crosses now and throughout history vary depending upon the source. Such as: “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.” Photo #61 by Peter Collins

Summer at Hill of Crosses

“Our Lord has written the promise of the resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in spring-time,” ~ quote by Martin Luther. Photo #62 by Algirdas

Siauliai Hill of Crosses

Catholic Planet stated: “This little hillock has long been a potent symbol of suffering, hope, devotion, and the undefeated faith of the Lithuanian people.”. Photo #63 by Ryan

Pilgrams at the Hill of Crosses, Lithuania

“Men have said that the cross of Christ was not a heroic thing, but I want to tell you that the cross of Jesus Christ has put more heroism in the souls of men than any other event in human history,” ~ quote by John G. Lake. Photo #64 by Ian Britton

Hill of Crosses in sillouette

Hill of Crosses in silhouette. Happy Easter for He is risen! Photo #65 by yeowatzup

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