Šiauliai and the Hill of Crosses

Saturday 2 to Sunday 3 September

The next day we set off for Šiauliai, to the east, in the rain. Our destination was Jurgaičiai (the Hill of Crosses) a place that has come to stand for Lithuanian’s standing up to oppression from invading forces. The country, like the other Baltic states of Latvia and Estonia was an ongoing battleground from the forces of the east – the Czars of Russia, and the west – the crusaders of Western Europe.

In 1831 some crosses were placed on a hill, 12km north of Šiauliai, to give thanks for returning soldiers and to remember those who had died. The hill is on the site of the 1831 Uprising by Polish forces against the Russian Empire. Now it is estimated that there are more than 100,000 crosses erected on the hill.

The hill has become a place of pilgrimage, especially during the years 1944-1990, when Lithuanians used it to demonstrate their allegiance to their original identity, religion and heritage. Soviets bulldozed the site at least three times during their occupation, but the hill always returned, stronger than before.

The hill remains under nobody’s jurisdiction; therefore people are free to build crosses as they see fit. A notice at the hill informed the rules for erecting crosses. Visitors can erect crosses up to 3m high anywhere on the hill, ‘without prejudice to the existing constructions and sacredness, without destroying earlier erected objects’. It is prohibited to destroy or destruct erected objects. It is also prohibited to use crosses from a cemetery.

In 1993 Pope John Paul II visited the site and declared it a place for hope, peace, love and sacrifice.

But there is another legend of the Hill of Crosses, about a farmer whose daughter was very sick. He had given her every medicine and taken her to every doctor, but she failed to get better.

One night in a dream a woman came to him, dressed in white. She told him to build a large cross and take it across the country and place it on a hill, as a sign of faith and love for God. When he returned he found his daughter was awake and healed.

We left our funny old Russian style hotel in Šiauliai on Father’s Day and headed south to Kanaus, remembering that a year ago we were in Granada to celebrate Hayden and Andrea’s wedding on this very day.