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  • Day1097

    Visiting the Hill of Crosses

    June 28 in Lithuania ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    The Hill of Crosses is one of the points of interest flagged up by the Lithuanian Tourist Board (and the Hairy Bikers). Thought to have started in the early 1800s following an uprising against Russian occupiers, people have been placing crosses, crucifixes and other religious tokens at this spot, a former hill fort, ever since. In the beginning it was to remember fallen fighters whose bodies could not be found. Over the years Catholic Lithuanians have used it to pray for peace. They placed crosses here to symbolise their allegiance to their religion and country, continuing to do so despite the Soviet authorities, who banned religion, bulldozing the hill on more than one occasion. It is a modern day place of pilgrimage.

    We were in two minds about whether to visit. As atheists our ideology is very different to those who believe in a god or gods and we have issue with many things that have been done in the name of religion. However, this site, with more than 100,000 crosses is obviously a big deal to many Lithuanians, whose culture and history we have come here to discover. With this in mind we set off on the short journey from our overnight spot at Ginkūnai.

    The paying car park (€2.90) easily accommodated Martha. Before we got to the short tunnel leading under the road to the hill, we passed by permanent stalls selling a multitude of wooden crosses, amber and carved wood souvenirs. The tourist information office was also home to an 'amber museum' with cabinets and display cases full of jewellery, decorated spoons, amber trees and a whole host of other amber infused items for sale.

    Approaching the hill, it was smaller than we'd envisaged, with one central walkway leading between the crosses and smaller paths branching off to the sides. The crosses themselves varied in size from 4m tall to just a few centimetres. Some were clay, others metal, but most were wooden, many with beautifully intricate carvings portaying effigies, inscriptions and elements of nature such as oak leaves. Rosary beads and small crosses hung on strings provided a background tune as they clattered against each other in the breeze.

    Anybody can place a cross and at points it was impossible to see the earth beside the paths because they covered it completely. It was certainly a striking place. Articles we had read talked of a sense of awe, love and hope for the future. As we wandered around the hill we pondered what feelings the site was eliciting from us. We weren't awed as we sometimes are when marvelling at the great architecture and atmosphere in cathedrals, nor did we feel any great sense of love or hope, if anything we felt a slight unease. Perhaps the hundreds of crosses for sale at souvenir stands just a few hundred metres away had clouded our view. Perhaps it was our own ideologies and preconceptions. We appreciated the unique aesthetics like we would Love Locks on a fence. We admired the artistry of carvings and forgings as we would sculptures in a park. We are glad we visited because it helped us learn more about Lithuania's history and expression.
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