The Hill of Crosses is one of the most surreal places I have ever visited on my travels, and five years after I went, I still don't quite know how to rationalise it.
I was raised a Catholic, and thought that I had a reasonable understanding of the more melancholy forms of devotional practice. However, I was confounded by the Hill of Crosses, which seems to have arisen out of that blurry border between religious observance and ethnic superstition, with a large measure of civil disobedience against the former communist regime thrown in for good measure.
The site was originally a hill fort, and it appears that the custom of placing crosses started some time in the mid 19th century. During the communist era, the Hill of Crosses became a symbol of the Lithuanian Catholics' resistance to oppression and an obvious focus of nationalistic sentiment. Understandably the Russians hated what it stood for, and bulldozed the site on at least three occasions. It gained international prominence in 1993, when Pope John Paul II visited and it is clear that the symbolism of this site must have resonated with his own experience. It's impossible to estimate how many crosses there are there, but estimates seem to converge at something around 100,000 (and increasing by the day).
Where to begin? Well, to start with, the sight of a low hillock literally bristling with crosses is pretty intimidating - it made me think of how a medieval army must have looked prior to engagement with a sea of pikes and spears protruding from its ranks. But what is really overwhelming is the detail as you approach and realise that every square inch of the hill is covered with crosses to the point where it would be almost impossible to insert more. Such is the congestion of crosses on the hill that they are now spilling onto the adjacent field.
There are crosses of every concievable size, shape and construction from ornate wrought iron affairs to simple silver birch branches lashed together, and every one is festooned with rosaries and other devotional paraphernalia. There are also some wooden carvings, such as the sorrowful old woman in the photo: as pieces of folk art, they are powerful, but I found the imagery unsettling, as though the whole place was a monument to suffering rather than to faith.
One of the websites that I consulted after my visit described the site as, "an expression of a spontaneous religiousness of the people, and is a symbol not of grief and death but of Faith, Love and Sacrifice". That wasn't my experience at all: on reflection, I found that the Hill of Crosses evoked in me a profound sense of unease - almost menace - and the aura of gloomy melancholy made me feel as though I had stumbled into a dark fairytale.
I think that it is an immensely thoughtprovoking place, and a 'must see' if you are travelling in Lithuania. Few places that you will visit on your travels are likely to provoke such extreme reaction, and for me, the valuable thing is to use the travel experience as a mirror and ask yourself what has caused you to react in that particular way. After all, travel should be a voyage of self-discovery, and even only for that fact alone, the Hill of Crosses is worth visiting.
so, I think it´s best to hitch a ride
there´s a bus too, but I don´t know how often
hichhiking was very easy, as it is everywhere in Lithuania
wysnaite has more info: