The Hill of Crosses and the power of a shared narrative in Lithuania

During our bus ride to Siauliai, HOB and I munched on supermarket sandwiches which turned out to be mostly mayonnaise.  Our driver was blasting Queen and I must say there probably isn’t a better way to arrive at a pilgrimage site in Northern Lithuania than being serenaded by We Are the Champions while eating a mayonnaise sandwich.

In fact the actual Hill of Crosses is about 10K outside of town, so we had to take a taxi (regrettably our cab driver did not play Queen).

The Hill of Crosses is, um, a hill with crosses on it.

hillofcrosses

We’re talking roughly a gazillion crosses.

crossavalance

When you start looking closer at the Hill of Crosses you can see the crosses themselves are hung with other crosses and underneath them is a dense undergrowth of still more crosses.

lady

Some crosses have a folk art vibe: UNESCO lists cross-crafting as an intangible cultural heritage practice in Lithuania.

figurines

Sun-faded figurines are nestled in with the crosses.

The Hill of Crosses is not a tourist trap.  No one is selling t-shirts and postcards (or crosses for that matter).  We were among just a few pilgrims enjoying the dramatic light and the sound of crosses tinkling in a light breeze.

window

We walked to a monastery just behind the cross hill.  That view = perfection.

duoThe story of the Hill of Crosses is as much of a story of resilience as one of religion.  During the Soviet occupation of the Baltics the hill was repeatedly destroyed.  After the Soviets, who opposed religion, knocked down the crosses the Lithuanian people put them up again.  The Soviet jerks mowed them down.  The Lithuanians brought in new crosses.  And so on, until finally; bye bye Soviet oppressors, hello ginormous Hill of Crosses.

shadowThis avalanche of religious symbolism is especially interesting if you consider that Lithuania was the last remaining Pagan country in Europe: it didn’t officially convert to Christianity until 1387.  But of course, the country was not entirely Christian.  Many Jews lived in Lithuania until Nazis murdered 143,000 of them during the Holocaust (including 8000 Jews from Siauliai).

The convergence of religious and national identity is compelling—is there anything more powerful than a shared narrative?  As much as I love religious pilgrimage sites, though, I find religious nationalism can be a bit creepy.  The implication is if you don’t believe, you don’t belong.  If you don’t belong, well you don’t have rights.  This sort of religious nationalism is currently an alarming trend in the United States.

The best way to enjoy the Hill of Crosses is to appreciate the peaceful beauty and spirituality of the surroundings while admiring the resilience of the Lithuanian people.  Let’s leave religious nationalism to the zealots, shall we?

salSiauliai is a pleasant town with a long pedestrian boulevard lined with sculptures from the 1970’s.  Their tourist information center is first rate.

netwin

The apartment we rented for the night was nice.  However, we couldn’t figure out how to turn on the heat, so we spent a rather chilly night.  The room did come with this puzzle, though, so net win.

 

How we got to the Hill of Crosses: bus from Riga to Siauliai, and then we took a taxi to the site.
Where we slept: Hotel Cēsis.  Price: €41.40 for a double. Recommended: yes.

 

 

 

9 comments

  1. People’s resilience is such a powerful trait of humanity.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I often think of this, especially in Central and Eastern Europe and in the Balkans, and now the Baltics too.

      Like

  2. Complicated, isn’t it, in the Baltic States…
    Russians who were sent here in the years of Russian occupation are now, together with their descendants, second class citizens with onerous requirements….
    And as to paganism…remember the exploits of the Teutonic Knights in that respect…and their territorial aggrandisement.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’ve sent me off to research the Teutonic Knights, Helen. I’m afraid I am shockingly ignorant about the history of the Baltics in general. I should write a post soon about the Estonian area bordering Russia called Setomaa and the complication of living across borders when the people identify as Seto more than as Russian or Estonian.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Look forward to that. Re the Teutonic Knights…Henry IV of England went on ‘crusade’ with them as a youngish man…and there is the film ‘Alexander Nevsky’ with the Prokofiev score…

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I enjoy reading your blog so much. I always learn something new and of course this time is no exception.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey thanks—I’m a big fan of your blog too!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I notice there is no picture of your completed puzzle…. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha ha—busted! The puzzle was too complicated for me. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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