Hill of Crosses. History.

The Hill of Crosses is situated in the middle of an arable land, twelve kilometers from Šiauliai. It is seen from Šiauliai – Ryga highway. The oblong mound, similar to a saddle, stands on a plane and is surrounded by the valleys of Kulpe stresam and its nameless tributaries. The hill is 60 meters long and 40-50 meters wide.

 
The Hill has a lot of names, people called it Pilies, Piliaus hill, Jurgaičių, Domantų mound, Šventkalniu, Maldavimų hill. There is quite lot legends about the Hill of Crosses.
 
Castle
XI – XIV a. there was a wooden castle on this hill. It helped to defend the land of Šiauliai from Sword – brothers Order. Also there was an ancient village on the base of the hill. In 1348 the fort (castle) was burned down by the knights of the Sword – brothers Order.
 
The reasons of the rise the crosses on the hill
There are no accurate accounts as to when and how the first cross appeared on the hill. However, various literary sources of the second half of the nineteenth century witness that even then the mound was considered a sacred site. In 1850, Treasurer of Šiauliai District Mauricijus Griškevičius wrote that a seriously ill resident of Jurgaičių village pledged to God in 1847 to erect a cross on the hill were his illness to disappear: “It so happened that he was cured when setting up a cross there.”
According to another version it is believed that the first crosses were put by the relatives of the victims of the rebellion in 1831 as the tsarist government did not allow the families to honor their deads properly. Crosses of the kind became more numerous after the other rebellion in 1863. But this version apeared in Soviet period.
First version is more reliable. The crosses were erected to thank God for restored health or asking for a health.
 
The end of the 19th century – interwar period
In the beginning of the 20th century the Hill of Crosses was already widely known as a sacral place. The crosses were first counted by Ksywicki in 1900. In historical chronicles he wrote that there were 130 crosses on the hill. Two years later there were already 155 crosses. After the Word War I, in 1922 there were 50 crosses but in 1938 – already over 400.
In addition to many pilgrims visiting, it was also a place for Masses and devotions.
In 1929 on Meškuičiai priests initiative was build the chapel on the hill. But it was very tawdry and in 1935 was demolished.
 
Soviet period
The Hill of Crosses became of special importance during Soviet times – this was the place of anonymous but surprising persistence to the regime. In 1960 there was to over 2000 crosses. The Soviet government considered the crosses and the hill a hostile and harmful symbol.
In 1961 wooden crosses were broken and burnt, metal ones used as scrap metal and stone and concrete crosses were broken and buried. Was planted decorative trees and scrubs. Set memorial stone for the 1863 – 1864 rebellion.
 The hill itself was many times destroyed with bulldozers. During the 1973–1975 period about half a thousand crosses used to be demolished each year without even trying to do this secretly. Later the tactics became more subtle: crosses were demolished as having no artistic value, different “epidemics” were announced forbidding people to come into the region or the roads were blocked by police. The Hill was guarded by both the Soviet army and KGB. The Hill was destroyed 1973, 1974, 1976 (that year part of the hill was diged of) in 1985 was last destruction of the hill.
In 1978 and 1979 there were some attempts to flood the territory.
Despite all these endeavors to stop people from visiting the Hill, crosses would reappear after each night.
 
Pope‘s visit
Pope John Paul II visited the Hill of Crosses on 7 September 1993. For his visit was build wooden openwork chapel (architect A.Jukna), where Pope celebrated Mass.
After year Pope presented For Lithuania a special Calvary (sculptor Enrikas Manzinis). The Calvary is fixed on 3.8 metre heightcross made from Lithuanian oak. Ant the stone inscribed with the words of Pope John Paul II:
“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”
 
In 1997 the Church revived devotions on the Hill. They take place every year on the last but one Sunday of July. Nowadays the Hill of Crosses is under the patronage of Šiauliai diocese, established on the 28 th oh May, 1997, and its first bishop Eugenijus Bartulis.

 

 
 
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Photos used in this site were made by Zigmas Ripinskis
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