1. The main square
Šiauliai region is known all over the world for the famous Hill of Crosses. This mound of national significance is an important cultural, historical, sacred, public and archaeological object.
The Hill of Crosses became famous all over the world, when on 07 September 1993 it was visited by Pope John Paul II. In commemoration of the one-year anniversary of the visit of the Hill of Crosses, the Crucifix of a man‘s size was donated to Lithuania by Pope John Paul II that was made under a special order by Italian sculptor Enrico Manfrini. It is attached to the cross made from the 3,8 m high Lithuanian oak. On its base there are words of the Pope engraved in the Lithuanian and English languages: „Thank You, Lithuanians, for this Hill of Crosses evidencing the great faith of the people of this land to all the nations of Europe and the whole world.“
INTERACTIVE POINT. Even though the researches of the Jurgaičiai Mound settlement are not many, the data collected allows to make several conclusions on the community which built, used and protected it. Archaeologists say that up to the 14th century the surroundings of the Jurgaičiai Mound thrived with life. Archaeological finds and the established inhabited area evidence of a large settlement and intensive agricultural activities. Most likely, the settlement had its craftsmen and there was a castle on the hill surrounded by a deep moat. The laid out boulders testify that the trench surrounding the Mound was fortified by boulders. The Mound was explored by the archaeologists four times. Signs of the first millenium of our era, remains of the Crusader aggression, defense installations were found there. Remains of 5 buildings were found in the settlement at the foot of the Jurgaičiai Mond. All buildings were wooden. The castle and the settlement were attacked and burned down on several occasions. This is evidenced by the points of the crossbow arrows and by the burn layer at the top of the Mound. The weapons unearthed suggest that the men of the Jurgaičiai settlement were warriors and defenders of their castle. The brass braided brooches suggest that people lead comfortable lives there.
In the Middle Ages, there used to stand a wooden castle on the hill, referred to as “Kula” in chronicles that was destroyed by the Livonian army in 1348. Nobody has lived on the Jurgaičiai Mound since the 14th century.
2. Why the erection of crosses started?
Erection of crosses started on the Jurgaičiai Mound also called as the Castle or the Prayers‘ hill in the middle of the 19th century. According to local people, the first crosses were erected while praying for God‘s mercy and good health. Other stories say that crosses began to emerge on the hill in memoriam to those killed in the Rebellions of 1863-1864.
The number of crosses was increasing on the hill despite the bans of the Tsar‘s government and the distress of the World War I. The years of the Soviet occupation were the hardest to the Hill of Crosses: all crosses were demolished several times, the Hill itself was badly torn up and all the roads leading to it were cut off. Nevertheless, the more the hill and its crosses were attempted to destroy, the more persistent were the people reerecting them, most ofter over the night, despite any dangers and persecution. The Hill of Crosses became the symbol of resistance against the Soviet occupation.
As soon as Lithuania regained its independence, the Hill of Crosses began to attract a continuous stream of pilgrims. The number of the crosses was increasing with every single day and since the Hill could no longer accommodate all the crosses, people began putting them up at the foot of the Hill. This Hill is like an open-air cross-making museum. There are simple crosses made by people themselves, tiny souvenir crosses as well as roofed pillar-type crosses. In addition, there are few roadside poles with a statuette of a saint, including one that is among the most famous works by the Lithuanian cross-makers.
3. The statue of Christ
You are standing in front of the sculpture of the Blessing Christ. The work carved by Zigmas Vaišvila greets and blesses everyone arrived at the Hill of Crosses. People say that there were attemptions to destroy the Blessing Christ; nevertheless, the sculpture withstood all adversities and still stands up to today.
INTERACTIVE POINT. A story was written down by Balys Buračas which is believed to be true by many Lithuanians. This legend explains, why the crosses were started to errect on the Castle Hill:
„A man had one beloved daughter who suddely became seriously ill. He would bring every remedy he knew to her but nothing helped and the girl was feeling worse with every day and the day of her death was rapidly approaching.
One night the father himself was sitting by the bed of his sick daughter. At midnight, he was suddenly overwhelmed by such a sweet sleep that he put his weary head by the side of his daughter‘s pillow and fell asleep. In his dream, an extraordinary woman wearing light clothes appeared to him and said, „If you wish your daughter to recover, you have to make a wooden cross, take it to the Castle Hill near Meškuičiai and erect it there, then your daughter will be healed“. As soon as she told him this, she disappeared. When the father woke up, he was not sure, whether he was sleeping and had this dream or it was a thought that unexpectedly came to his head. One way or another, he decided to make a beautiful cross and to erect it as soon as possible in the place that he was told.
As soon as the cross was made, wishing and praying for his daughter‘s recovery, the father left home carrying the cross towards the Castle Hill. Even though the cross was heavy and he was not that strong anymore, he put his heart and soul into the effort to keep his promise. After having walked for thirteen hours, he finally reached the Castle Hill. He kissed the cross and erected the first cross ever on the Hill.
While coming back home, he was suddely met by his fully recovered daughter at the half-way. The father‘s head started spinning while evidencing such a miracle since he could not understand, whether it was true or she was haunting him. It turned out that as soon as the father left home carrying the cross, his daughter‘s condition started to improve and when the father reached the Castle Hill, his daughter get out of her bed.
Later on, other people found out about this miracle. If someone became ill, he or she would promise to erect a cross on the Castle Hill and many people recovered this way. On the other hand, those who promised but failed to keep their promises, became ill again.
Consequently, many crosses brought by people from different areas in Lithuania were erected there. Even though, a great number of crosses become damaged by winds and storms, there are so many of them like trees in the dense forest. That is why this Hill is know all over Lithuania“.
4. St.Virgin Mary on the Hill
One of the legends of the Hill of Crosses say that the outset of the Hill of Crosses is related to appearance of St.Virgin Mary to children in 1872. Three statues of St.Virgin Mary stood in this place.
The first statue of St.Virgin Mary was standing on the Hill within a period from 1978 to 1993. The statue was named as „The Blessed Virgin Mary, Distributor of the God‘s Grace“. On 07 September 1993, it was blessed by Pope John Paul II.
The second statue of St.Virgin Mary was standing on the Hill within a period from 1994 to 2011.
The third statue of St.Virgin Mary was erected on the Hill of Crosses in 2012 and is standing there up to now. St.Mary is holding Baby Jesus whose arm is embracing the Mother of God.
5. The Chapel
The Chapel of the Hill of Crosses, also called as the Pope‘s Chapel was constructed as a temporary construction back in 1993, while preparing for the visit of Pope John Paul II. The Pope together with the Lithuanian bishops sacrificed the Holy Mass in the Chapel that was surrounded by hundreds of thousands of worshipers.
Back then, the Pope named Lithuania as the Country of Crosses, whereas the Hill of Crosses as a special place in the world where suffering and pain of the century are concentrated and where the hope of resurrection comes to light at the same time. Being fascinated by the symbol of faith of our nation, he said that this Hill should be seen not just by Europe but by the whole world.
After the Pope‘s visit, the Chapel had to be demolished. Nevertheless, thanks to the efforts of the believers it was preserved and finally included into the Register of Cultural Heritage.
6. Courtyard of the Monastery. The Monastery
In the autumn of 1993, a few weeks after the trip of Pope John Paul II around Lithuania, visiting Franciscan Monastery of Mount La Verne in Italy, the Pope said that there were two special hills in Europe – Mount La Verne and the Hill of Crosses and that these two hills must be bridged. He urged Franciscan brothers to build a monastery near the Hill of Crosses. The Franciscans responded promptly to the Pope’s encouragement. The project of a hermit of Franciscan Brothers was designed by the architects Angelo Polesello and Nunzio Rimmaudo. The cornerstone of the monastery was cut out of Mount La Verna. The cornerstone has a capsule inside with the monastery establishment documents, it was consecrated by Pope John Paul II.
The Franciscan monastery of the Lithuanian Province of St.Casimir at the Hill of Crosses was solemnly consecrated on 8 July 2000.
INTERACTIVE POINT. The monastery has several cells, a chapel, and a library. The chapel is decorated with the stained glass by Algirdas Dovydėnas, representing the history of the Franciscan friars, an expressive altar, a tabernacle and a pulpit (author: painter Rimantas Sakalauskas). The reliefs of the altar reveal the links between the Hill of Crosses and Mount La Verna. While he was praying on the Mountain of Verna, St. Francis received the Holy Stigmata, the wounds of Christ.
A novitiate of the Lithuanian Franciscan Province of St. Casimir was founded in the sanctuary of the Order of Friars Minor (OFM, Franciscans). The Franciscan Brothers at the same time serve as custodians of the Hill of Crosses. The monastery can shelter worshippers wishful of quiet moments of concentration.
7. The Hill of Crosses
You have just heard a story of the Hill of Crosses. This Hill is the symbol of sufferring, hope and unbroken faith of our nation. The Hill of Crosses is widely known as a sacred place to which people come to leave a piece of themselves forever. The cross is a special symbol and where there are so many of them, all of them containing so much feelings, suffering and faith, the Hill of Crosses acquires an extraordinary value.