I carry on with my stories about Lithuania and today I would like to tell you about an incredible place called Hill of Crosses. Sometimes when travel I come across places that make me question many things about humanity. The most powerful so far was Auschwitz but today’s place is equally melancholic and sad.
The hill or rather two hilltops are situated among picturesque meadows, above the small Kulpa river, near the modest town of Meszkucie. In the Middle Ages it was a fortified settlement, and the first cross was put there just after the official baptism of Lithuania.
We arrived there on early Monday morning, and from our first look at the top, we had goosebumps and cramps in our throats. Everywhere we looked there were crosses, many crosses of various sizes, crosses lying, crosses hung one on top of the other, millions of crosses, made of wood crosses, metal, plastic crosses, an entire forest of crosses. An unbelievable place, a specific sanctuary of religious symbols and after seeing it, the picture of it became encrypted forever in our brains, regardless of whether we were Catholics, unbelievers, Buddhists or Jews.
The history of this place is so powerful.
It dates back to the November Uprising against Russian rule in 1830 when the official authorities forbade to put any religious symbols on the graves of killed and executed rebel soldiers. Desperate relatives and family members came to the hill with the crosses, and thus this enormous mausoleum was created.
After the January Uprising in 1863, the number grew significantly, and in the following years, it constantly increased, because, after each deportation of someone to Siberia, the family was putting a cross here. The hills became a place of pilgrimage, but its fame alarmed the governor of Vilnius, Mikhail Muravyov, famous for the cruel suppression of the uprising in the Vilnius region. According to Wikipedia, 177 insurgents were hanged, 972 people were sent to forced labour, 345 were forcibly drafted into the army, 1427 were sent to Siberia, and 1529 were displaced in other places of Russia. Deportations and resettlement were simultaneously related to the confiscation of property of convicts. And that famous Muravyov ordered the destruction of the Hill of Crosses. However, after each removal of Crucifixes, new ones appeared in an ever-increasing number.
Years passed but existence of Hills kept bothering Russians and after the war, the Soviet government again decided to liquidate this place of worship. The NKVD destroyed the crosses with a bulldozer and then burnt them. The new ones, however, stubbornly returned. In the seventies, the action was repeated. A real “war for crosses” lasted for the entire decade. During the day militia guarded the hill, but at night people brought crosses back, in the morning militia again destroyed them and at night people brought them back etc. etc. Finally, in 1980 the case went to an international human rights conference in Mexico. This was a huge scandal. The USSR was criticised for breaking the freedom of religion in Lithuania. The Soviet government gave up and allowed the hilltops to overlap with new crosses. After the declaration of independence by Lithuania in 1990, tens of thousands of pilgrims from all over Lithuania came to the Hill of Crosses to place their crosses there.
The history of this place made me think, but I’ve never regretted visiting it. So what are your thoughts on this place?