The faithful, the curious, the believers and the photographers flock to an extraordinary site 12km outside the town of Siauliai in northern Lithuania, where a small hill is covered with crosses. There are over 100,000 of them. Some say 500,000, some claim it’s closer to a million. I didn’t attempt to count them. This is not a cemetery, but it commemorates the departed. It also commemorates Lithuania’s struggle for political and religious freedom under the Soviet yoke.
The exact origin of the tradition of visitors placing crosses here is disputed, but the first ones seem to have appeared after the November uprising against the Russian Empire in 1831.
Its symbolic importance grew when the Soviets tried to stamp out religious icons, bulldozing the hill in 1963 and 1973. But under cover of darkness, the crosses always reappeared, a peaceful protest against the oppressors.
After Lithuania gained independence, a visit from Pope John Paul II in 1993 confirmed the Hill of Crosses as a place of pilgrimage not only for Lithuania’s Catholics, but also for tourists from around the world. I was impressed to find a Jewish monument between all these Christian symbols.
Anybody can add a cross to the collection, and naturally you can buy one in the gift shop if you forgot to bring your own.
The writer was the guest of Odyssey Travel.
Odyssey Travel runs guided tours of the Baltic States, including a visit to the Hill of Crosses. See odysseytravel.com.au