The Hill of Crosses

Yesterday I had the opportunity to tag along when a visitor to the university from the US requested a visit to one of Lithuania’s most famous sites, The Hill of Crosses.  I had wanted to see it but it had never worked out as it is two hours away and therefore not convenient.

This unusual site began in the early 1800’s.  There was once a fort on the hill and the first crosses were placed there after the 1831 uprising against the Russians as a tribute and remembrance to those lost in battle whose bodies had not been recovered so there was  no place of burial for the mourners to give respect to their fallen.  After another uprising in 1863, more crosses were placed there and by the early 20th century it had become a sacred place.  During the Soviet occupation the hill was completely destroyed four times: the wooden crosses were burned, the metal ones turned into scrap metal or buried and the hill was bulldozed.  It was even flooded with sewage a couple of times and the Soviet authorities made plans to build a dam there so that the hill would be under water.  But although guarded by militia and KGB, crosses kept reappearing on the hill.  Finally, it was left alone and after the Soviets left it began to grow rapidly.  Now it has become a pilgrimage site for Catholics and was visited by Pope John Paul II in 1993. It is sort of symbolic of the perseverance of the church despite oppression.  By now, there are easily millions of crosses there and it covers a much large area than I had imagined as I had only seen pictures of the main hill.  I took many pictures because there were so many interesting crosses so here are some which I hope will give a good idea of what is there.  The making of crosses, wood and metal is one the the most important folk arts in Lithuania and it is listed by UNESCO as a cultural heritage.

Of course, the Man of Sorrows showed up here as well.

A student, Ruta, drove us on our journey yesterday and it was interesting to talk with her.  She asked me what South Carolina was famous for and I said, “It started the Civil War.”  I thought that would all be pretty murky to her but was so surprised to learn she had read, Gone With The Wind!    At lunch I mentioned how amazed I was at all the varieties of juice available here and she said, having visited the US, she couldn’t believe all the varieties of cereal we have.  It is interesting to see what differences people notice.  When I told Marina (our friend at Bible Study) how I was struck by all the metal sculpture everywhere, she looked surprised and said she had not noticed that.

Things are really winding down and every day we are thinking of how few days we have left. We have really enjoyed our time here and Chuck is so sad to leave.  Although I will miss our life here–especially the children and grandchildren–I’m ready to go home.   Still, there is always sadness in saying goodbye and I feel like I’m not quite finished looking at things–I just discovered a new street and a great new restaurant when we took Rachel out for her birthday last night.

Today is especially exciting because Father Frank Larisey and his wife, Hope, coming all the way from Orangeburg, SC,  will be arriving–in just a couple of hours– to spend the weekend with us here in Klaipeda.  We were hoping for good weather for sight-seeing for them but it looks like Klaipeda is going to be as advertised–cold and wet.  At least the wind is not so  bad today.

A final picture for you today—some cute little pirates who live close by.  Sorry–sometimes I just can’t resist showing pictures of the grandchildren.






3 thoughts on “The Hill of Crosses

  1. The Hill of Crosses is quite incredible. Did it leave you feeling uplifted as it appears quite somber? It’s kind of like a seriously dark Cathedral in spite of its outdoor setting. Perhaps it’s just knowing its history that leaves the dark impression – or maybe the cold, grey day!
    Have a wonderful visit with Father Frank and Hope! How special that they’re able to be there with you. However will you decide what to do first?

    • Hi Melissa,

      Perhaps it was just the very cold, windy, and grey day, but the Hill of Crosses did leave me feeling somber. I think it is just because the history of all of Lithuania is so sad. Although not all the deaths represented by these crosses were because of war and oppression, still, people in this country, as in so much of Eastern Europe, have endured so much over the years and there seems to be a heaviness in the very air. I acknowledge such an impression may exist only in my mind but the people seem sort of resigned to the disappointments and difficulties of life in a way I don’t see at home. And it is true that Lithuania has the highest incidence of suicide in the world. Today as Fr. Frank, Hope, Chuck, and I were hiking to the Orthodox Church, we came across a young man on his knees and elbows, gagging and shaking violently off and on. We asked if he needed help but he was ill beyond speaking and, of course, he probably did not understand. We didn’t know how to get help–there was no one around. Finally, a woman appeared at her apartment balcony and motioned to us to leave him alone–he had just been drinking. I felt he was far beyond just having a hang-over but we had no choice but to go on. At least the woman knew he was there and perhaps could get help if he did not recover before long. All we could do was offer a prayer for him–he was gone when we returned later.

      • These pictures are awesome! Eerie, even. Know you enjoyed seeing Frank and Hope!
        Are you guys going to re-up?

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