Have you heard of the Hill of Crosses? The site of pilgrimage is located about 12 km north of the city of Šiauliai, in northern Lithuania. Around the beginning of the 20th century, the hill was established as a holy place of sorts. Over time, people began traveling to the location, carrying crosses along the way and leaving them in the shrine as a testament of faith.
In the decades that followed, the Soviet government came to view the hill as a nuisance and even a hostile symbol. As a result, it was bulldozed multiple times; each instance, the crosses were broken up for firewood or sent to scrap metal yards. During the country’s occupation by the Soviet Union, the Hill of Crosses began to represent a place of peaceful resistance. Though it was often guarded by the KGB, crosses continued to appear overnight.
In 1993, after the fall of the Soviet Union, Pope John Paul visited the Hill of Crosses. While embracing the site, the pontiff declared the location a place of “hope, peace, love and sacrifice.”
For years, Catholics and Lutherans have visited the holy place, leaving crosses, effigies and rosaries in their wake. It is presently unknown how many crosses are on the hill. In 1990, it was estimated there were 55,000. In 2006, the estimate was 100,000.
To this day, the Hill of Crosses holds a powerful presence. Following are glorious — yet haunting — photographs of the mysterious location:
Crosses have begun appearing in the flatter areas around the now very crowded hill itself.
Those who don’t have a cross to bring to the hill will often leave other tokens to remember those who have perished.
Less than a mile from the Hill of Crosses resides a Franciscan monastery.
This drone photo shows the hill’s 60-meter long and 40-50-meter wide size from an aerial view.
While under communist rule, the crosses were regularly torn down and destroyed by authorities who attempted to discourage the practice.
The hill was considered a place of “peaceful resistance” during Lithuania’s years in the Soviet Union.
The hill is now under no particular jurisdiction, so people are free to place crosses as they wish.
The crosses were first counted in 1900, totaling 130, but that number swelled considerably in the decades following.
In 1961, the Soviet government demolished more than 5,000 crosses.
The Hill of Crosses was declared a place of peace, hope, love and sacrifice by Pope John Paul II on September 7, 1993.
For decades, the crosses have served as a reminder of persecution during which half of the Lutheran clergy in Lithuania was executed under Communist rule in the 20th century.