It sounds like a cheap Hollywood horror movie, but Hill of Crosses is a real place - a site of pilgrimage actually – located about 12 km north of the city of Siauliai, in northern Lithuania. Standing upon a small hill are many hundreds of thousands of crosses that represent Christian devotion and a memorial to Lithuanian national identity. The precise origin of the practice of leaving crosses on the hill is uncertain, but it is believed that the first crosses were placed on the former Jurgaičiai or Domantai hill fort after the 1831 Uprising. Over the centuries, not only crosses, but giant crucifixes, carvings of Lithuanian patriots, statues of the Virgin Mary and thousands of tiny effigies and rosaries have been brought here by Catholic pilgrims. It is estimated that there are over 100,000 crosses on the hill.
Sources vary as to when the crosses first started appearing on the hill near Siauliai. One story is that in the thirteenth century, when Lithuania was mostly Pagan and before it had been Christianized, a group of Pagans burned down a church on that spot. The remnants formed two hills and as a memorial to the priests of that church people started placing Crosses there. Many variations to this story exist, such as two Christian crusaders were passing by and were killed at that spot, as opposed to there ever being a church there.
The site was first mentioned as early as the 14th century. In more recent times, the Hill has become a source of national pride. This occurred during 1831 and 1863, when anti-Soviet uprisings occurred, and once again during the 50 year Soviet occupation of Lithuania, which began with the second world war. The Soviets bulldozed the hill three times and dug a ditch around the hill to stop anyone from entering this site. Yet people continued to plant crosses. Planting a cross was considered a punishable crime by the Soviets, yet crosses continued to appear.
In 1991, with the advent of Lithuanian independence, the Hill of Crosses became a national symbol of the fight for independence. At that time, an estimated 35,000 crosses were already laid, varying in size from a few centimetres to 4 meters. The Pope John Paul II paid homage to the site in 1993 and donated a statue of the crucified Christ.
Today, the crosses number in the hundred of thousands and is visited by many thousands of visitors and pilgrims from all over the world.