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The Hill of Crosses: Lithuania’s Sacred Pilgrim Site

 I was amazed when I learned about this astonishing site in Lithuania called the Hill of Crosses. The more I look at and read about it, the more inspired I become by its story as a testimony to the spirit of the Lithuanian people. 
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Located near the city of Siauliai, the hill introduced crosses after the 1831 Peasant Uprising against the Russians. An estimated 10,000 to 20,000 people lost their lives in the battle. Those who couldn’t find their loved ones’ bodies put up a cross in memoriam. Ever since then the site has become a pilgrimage site for Lithuanian Catholics to commemorate the dead.
This hill is 60 meters long and 40 meters wide (196 feet and 131 feet respectively). Thousands of crosses, statues, carvings, rosaries, pictures of saints and other mementos are packed across the site. Experts estimate the number of crosses on site to be over 200,000. It is customary for visitors to leave behind a cross or another sacred memento, so the number of crosses is constantly growing. 
Having started in 1940, Lithuania came to be occupied by Soviet Russia and remained so for another half a century. The Soviets outlawed religion and tried to suppress Lithuanian culture and political activity. They deported thousands to Siberia. The country suffered a 33% population loss due to the Holocaust, executions, incarcerations and forced emigration. People traveled to the Hill of Crosses to erect crosses in memory of those taken to Siberia. 
In 1959, the Soviets banned the construction of crosses and began an unsuccessful campaign to destroy the hill and its symbolism. There were repeated attempts to bulldoze, flood, burn crosses, and generally demolish the site. They placed KGB guards and barricades to stop locals from putting up more crosses, but the Lithuanians were defiant and would still sneak in at night. 
The site shows many examples of cross crafting, a Lithuanian art form. All across the country you will see crosses on houses, churches, cemeteries and roadsides. They are intricately adorned with geometric patterns, flowers, suns, birds and the tree of life. They are used as memorials for the dead, as well as significant events to mark former settlements, and offer spiritual protection and safety for travelers.
The hill is visited by people from all over the world and is especially busy during Easter week. In 1993, Pope John Paul II visited the site. He was followed by thousands of Lithuanians who came to greet and pray with the Pope. The Pope addressed the crowds: “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."
Cover image courtesy of Depositphotos
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