BALTICS          LITHUANIA   

 

The Hill of Crosses

 
Raj  Kothari, February 2001

 

The Hill of Crosses has become a symbol of Lithuanian national freedom and religious perseverance. Tens of thousands of Crosses have been placed on two lone hills in the predominantly flat northern countryside of Lithuania. These crosses serve as a reminder of the fight against Soviet oppression and the importance of faith in uniting a people during the worst of times.

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. The recent history of the Hill of Crosses, on the other hand, has all been formally documented. Siauliai is the closest city to the site and is located approximately 12km to the south. Crosses are integral in Lithuanian life and are placed everywhere, from the countryside to city squares to outside homes. Individuals erect Crosses to bring health and prosperity and to commemorate joyous occasions.

 

In a country so strongly Catholic, the Hill of Crosses quickly became a symbol of hope and rebellion against Stalin's oppression. The Soviets promptly removed any Crosses placed on these hills and, as a result, putting up new crosses became a way of defying the authorities under the intolerable conditions. Lithuania was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940 and between the years of 1941 and 1952 a large number of Lithuanians were deported to Siberia.

The most severe time of persecution for the Lithuanian Catholics was between 1945 and 1955, when 4 bishops, 185 priests, and approximately 275,000 followers were arrested or sent to Siberian concentration camps (New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol.8, p.145).

 

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.  

 However, despite this adamant show of force people continued erecting Crosses on the hill. By around 1980 the Soviets decided to let the Hill of Crosses stand and people have been going to worship ever since. It is customary even today to erect a Cross of your own when you go to visit. Shortly after the Soviet take over in 1940, Germany successfully invaded Lithuania in 1941.

 

During World War II many Jewish people throughout Europe were persecuted and those in living in Lithuania were no exception. In fact, Lithuania had one of the highest Jewish populations out of the eastern bloc countries and after the war had one of the lowest. However, it is important to note that the Hill of Crosses had no connection to any of the anti-Semitic actions. .

The site was and is purely a place for Lithuanian Catholics to commemorate their dead. Protests regarding any other faith had no affiliation with this siteIn the early 1990's, following the fall of communism, the Hill of Crosses was declared a sacred place. On September 7, 1993, Pope John Paul II commemorate mass at this holy place, during his Apostolic visit to Lithuania. A stamp was issued for four of the major holy sites the Pope visited on that trip; the Hill of Crosses was on one of them. The Hill of Crosses today is a powerful symbol linking Lithuania's past, present and future.

 

References

Bibliography Darius Razgaitis. Junior at Boston University. Lithuanian.

New Catholic Encyclopedia. Mc Graw Hill, New York. 1967. Volume 8, P.841-845.

http://www.catholicshrines.com/page24.html

http://w1.1429.telia.com/~u142900328/frame_Lith-HillOfCrosses.htm

http://www.javlb.org/folklife/crosses.htm http://www.catholic-forum.com/saints/pope0264

 

 

 

 

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