We’ve shown you photos of the Hill of Three Crosses, here in Vilnius, up behind the fort.
But on our way back from Riga, a few weeks ago, we wandered around and finally found the Hill of Crosses, a couple hours drive northwest of Vilnius.
For centuries crosses have been a Lithuanian folk art, often carved from the sacred oak, found on hill tops and along the roads, and then eventually blessed, co-opted, by Christian missionaries.
There are legends about the origin of the hill itself, one being that it was built up in three days and nights by the families of warriors killed in a great battle. Or that it was the work of a father who sought healing for his sick daughter.
It is said that crosses began appearing here in the 14th century, and multiplied in succeeding centuries after uprisings against occupying forces, a growing symbol of suffering and hope.
In the Soviet era planting a cross here was a crime, but the crosses kept coming in the wake of deportations and killings. The hill was bulldozed at least three times.
In 1961 the Red Army destroyed the more than 2000 crosses that stood on the hill at that time, but, literally overnight, new crosses appeared.
in 1972, after the self-immolation by a student in the city of Kaunas, protesting Soviet occupation, the crosses were destroyed again as authorities sought to eliminate opportunities for anti-Soviet activities.
But the crosses appeared again, and by 1990, by rough count, there were more than 40,000 of them spilling over one hill and up the side of the next one.
And since independence, in 1991, the number has grown to a half million or more, with new ones added virtually every day.
In 1993 Pope John Paul II visited the Hill of Crosses. You can see the shelter where he celebrated mass. And later a cross was added to commemorate his visit.
Recently, elaborate stations of the cross have been erected,
at least one of them also hosting a nest.
Large and small,
elaborate and simple,
piled up by the thousands, they testify to faith, to nationalism, to loss, to hope.
(Thanks to “Lonely Planet” for some of this information.)