Feast Day

Pilgrims who used to gather at the Hill of Crosses were usually taken care of by the priests of the neighbouring Meškuičiai Parish. Actually, not only did they approve of the erection of crosses but also urged people to build crosses and consecrated new crosses willingly. Hence the tradition of public prayer at the Hill of Crosses began to emerge at the end of the 19th century and subsequently outspread and strengthened in the interwar period.

The periodicals of the early 20th century note that the Hill of Crosses would attract a lot of people on high-days in summer. The Holy Mass was sacrificed on the Hill. Particularly large gatherings on the Hill used to take place during the night of the Feast of St. John when a priest would consecrate crosses. Crowds of pilgrims arrived at the Hill of Crosses on Feast Days for the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Rosary). Church processions would take place at the Hill of Crosses too. In 1928, Šiauliai newspaper “Momentas” wrote that on 15 July that same year, the Hill attracted a crowd of as many as 10 thousand pilgrims. The similar number of pilgrims used to gather at the Hill in other years as well.

The Hill was not large enough to receive such a host of pilgrims. Furthermore, whenever the weather was bad, sacrificing the Mass or holding public prayer was uncomfortable. Therefore in 1929, a committee was constituted to make arrangements to construct a small wooden chapel on the Hill of Crosses in the spring of 1929 for the sacrifice of the Mass and gatherings. The chapel was built on the initiative of Meškuičiai Parish priests unfortunately it was tacky and uglifying the landscape therefore entailed a dispute between the parson of Meškuičiai and the dean of Šiauliai. The boarding was pulled down in 1935 by order of the Chief Inspectorate of Construction. Public prayer held on the Hill of Crosses attracted not only crowds of pilgrims but also musicians, beggars, and all sorts of beneficiaries.

In the Soviet period, the Feast Day tradition on the Hill of Crosses was intermitted because of persecution. The Feast Day was revived only when Pope John Paul II established the Diocese of Šiauliai on 28 May 1997. Eugenijus Bartulis, the first bishop of Šiauliai, passed a decree on 20 July 1997 to renew the Feast Day celebration at the Hill of Crosses. The Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Rosary) previously hold on 16 July was rescheduled to the last Sunday of July by the bishop E. Bartulis.

Old and new forms of celebration are intertwined on the revitalized Feast Day at the Hill of Crosses: mostly young people’s pilgrimage to the Hill of Crosses, carrying and erecting the Cross, vigil, walking the Cross, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, catecheses, Christian music concerts, and art events. On Sunday, the main Feast Day, the Holy Mass is sacrificed by bishops from all over Lithuania and an Apostolic Nuncio. The Feast Day scheme usually focuses on young people. The Franciscans located in the vicinity of the Hill of Crosses contribute significantly to the Feast Day arrangement.

The Feast Day is celebrated at the Hill of Crosses on the last Sunday of July.

Each year, the Hill of Crosses attracts hundreds of people from all over the world.

Eugenijus Bartulis, Bishop of Šiauliai, invites the entire congregation to band together at the Hill of Crosses and celebrate communication of faith with one accord on the pilgrimage day. The Hill of Crosses is a place of human experience of faith, a place of prayer and thanksgiving. There are many testimonies shared among the visitors of the Hill of Crosses that God has answered their prayers by indicating a direction and granting support in life.

The Hill of Crosses was first mentioned in written sources in 1850 whereas at the turn of the 19th century it was a well-known sacral place distinguished for praying without ceasing. People erected crosses on the Hill asking God for the right boon or in return for God’s grace.

The Soviet government ordered to destroy crosses on the Hill of Crosses nevertheless people never ceased to erect new ones. In 1961, the crosses on the hill were “swept down” by bulldozers and destroyed however even then people secretly continued to build crosses.

About the Hill

A small-sized oblong concave hill thickset with crosses is situated in the fields approximately 12 km north of Šiauliai, a short way off the railway line Šiauliai - Riga. This is the famous Hill of Crosses attesting to respect and loyalty to the sacrifice of the Cross through which Christ has saved the people of all time and generation. The Hill of Crosses evokes not only the suffering and death of the Redeemer but also His resurrection and exaltation, and at the same time exaltation of every human through the mystery of the Cross. Those who travel to the Hill of Crosses to pray and erect crosses testify to the strength gushing out of the Cross, inexhaustible hope, and faith in God’s love.

In the Middle Ages, there used to stand a wooden castle on the hill, referred to as “Kula” in chronicles. It was destroyed by the Livonian army in 1348. Over the years, the hill stood bare. In the middle of the 19th century, crosses sprang up on the hill known as Castle Hill, Jurgaičiai Mound, Domantai Mound, and Prayers Hill among people. According to local people, the first crosses were built praying for good health. Other stories say that crosses began to emerge on the hill in memoriam to those killed in the Rebellion of 1863. Having subdued the rebels, the Tsar’s government banned building crosses; people who had crosses in their homesteads were punished and the crosses were torn down. Devout people did not have the least intention to abandon building crosses; instead they would choose a more remote site such as the Hill of Crosses. Consequently the Hill of Crosses also signifies the faith strong enough to surmount any obstacles.

Despite suppressions carried out by the Tsar’s government and the First World War, the Hill of Crosses was gradually growing. The Hill flourished in the interwar period. People climbed it to pray and attend the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In particular, lots of people gathered at the Hill on high-days in summer. The Feast Day celebrations used to take place at the Hill of Crosses in the middle of July. The Hill was besieged by thousands of people on such days.

During the Soviet occupation, building crosses on the Hill was strictly forbidden and pilgrims were being chased and punished. Moreover, the Hill itself was severely damaged several times: all the existent crosses were swept off and roads leading to the Hill were cut off. At one time, attempts were made to flood the Hill of Crosses. However everything that happened was contrary to the occupation government’s expectations: the more severe the destruction of the Hill, the more powerful its recurrence. People would put up crosses at night and carry them in spite of danger, prohibition and persecution. The Hill of Crosses became the symbol of heroic resistance to suppression of religious liberty.

When Lithuania regained its independence, the Hill of Crosses began to attract a continuous stream of pilgrims. Since the Hill could no longer accommodate all the crosses, people began putting them up at the foot of the Hill. The most important event in the history of the Hill of Crosses which brought fame to it throughout the world was a visit made to the Hill by Pope John Paul II on 7 September 1993. The Holy Father prayed at the Hill of Crosses, sacrificed the Holy Mass in the chapel by the Hill, and addressed a huge crowd of the faithful gathered at the Hill, “Let this Hill of Crosses at the end of the second Millennium after Christ’s coming testify and declare a new third Millennium, declare salvation and redemption nowhere else to be found but in the Cross and Resurrection of our Redeemer”. The Pope referred to his visit to the Hill of Crosses in his later speeches on numerous occasions.

Having visited the Franciscan Sanctuary of La Verna in Italy, John Paul II encouraged the Franciscans to build a hermit of the Franciscan Brothers by the Hill of Crosses. The monastery was built on 8 July 2000 and consecrated.

A new leaf in the history of the Hill of Crosses was turned over upon the establishment of the Diocese of Šiauliai. The Hill of Crosses sort of served as the core of the Diocese of Šiauliai, the second most important temple after the Cathedral. The Feast Day celebration at the Hill of Crosses was renewed by Eugenijus Bartulis, the Bishop of Šiauliai.

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Photos used in this site were made by Zigmas Ripinskis
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