For hundreds of years Catholic pilgrims have made their way to Northern Lithuania’s sacred Hill of Crosses to honor a loved one, hope for a healing, or make a plea for divine intervention. While not technically a cemetery, the site is a place to honor the dead and pay tribute to their memory. It is also a monument to the resilience of the Lithuanian people.
The Hill of Crosses is home to hundreds of thousands of crosses both small and large. Why this particular spot was chosen is unknown. The most common explanation is that it was the location of a notorious fort during the 1831 uprising of the Polish and Lithuanian armies against the Russians. It is said that the families of those who died in the rebellion left crosses to commemorate their lost loved ones since they had no body to bury.
From 1944-1990, Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union. During these days, the planting of crosses became a way to express independence and pay tribute to the country’s identity and heritage. It was during this period that the Russian government attempted to squelch what had become a form of peaceful protest by bulldozing the crosses. The KGB plowed down the crosses at least three times, but pilgrims continued to plant them and still do so today.
In 1991, when Lithuania acquired its long awaited independence, the hill became a dual symbol of Lithuania’s Catholic faith and her national identity.
In 1993, Pope John Paul II visited the Hill and affirmed its place as a sacred site. After his visit, the Pope urged Franciscan friars to build a monastery near the Hill. In 2000, a hermitage near the site was opened and today it is still home to the order.
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