Saturday, August 28, 2010

Šiauliai: Hill Of Crosses

In the early 19th century, on a hill in the north of Lithuania outside of the town of Šiauliai (pronounced shau-lay), a simple act of faith was transformed into a defiant protest. People started placing crosses in memory of departed loved ones. During the 1831 Uprising against the Russian Empire, rebels would disappear and in place of a grave a cross would be erected to commemorate family members who had perished.

Over time it grew to include crucifixes and icons from anyone who wished for a simple blessing or good luck like obtaining high marks in school exams. They multiplied like grain, sprouting from the bald hill until they grew into a forest. When the Soviets occupied Lithuania from 1944-1990, they recognized the hill as a threat and tried banning people from placing anything here.

Under the cover of darkness, people kept coming. Then the Soviets attempted to bulldoze the hill, flatten it into plain of nothing, but the people returned to put up more. When the Soviets disappeared, the crosses flourished again and now it’s a booming forest called Kryžių Kalnas in Lithuanian or "Hill of Crosses", attracting people like us from all over the world.

Most are from Catholics (Pope John Paul II visited in 1993), but we saw a few Jewish Stars of David, and even an advert from a car dealership.

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