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 15+ glorious — yet haunting — photographs of the mysterious location:
Crosses have begun appearing in the flatter areas around the now very crowded hill itself.Wikimedia Commons
Those who don’t have a cross to bring to the hill will often leave other tokens to remember those who have perished. Jeanpierre/Flickr
The hill is littered with not only crosses, but statues of Jesus and the Virgin Mary.Thomas Stegh/Wikimedia Commons
Less than a mile from the Hill of Crosses resides a Franciscan monastery.Dezidor/Wikimedia Commons
Many of the smaller crosses on the hill represent babies and children who have died. Ublaslg/Flickr
The first crosses began to appear on the hill following Lithuanian uprisings against Russian authorities in 1831.Valery/Flickr
The number of crosses on the hill crossed the 100,000 threshold in 2006. Alassandra/Flickr
This drone photo shows the hill’s 60-meter long and 40-50-meter wide size from an aerial view. Fotografija/YouTube
While under communist rule, the crosses were regularly torn down and destroyed by authorities who attempted to discourage the practice.RaquelQ/Flickr
The hill was considered a place of “peaceful resistance” during Lithuania’s years in the Soviet Union.Wikimedia Commons
The hill is now under no particular jurisdiction, so people are free to place crosses as they wish. Italas/Wikimedia Commons
The crosses were first counted in 1900, totaling 130, but that number swelled considerably in the decades following. Wikimedia Commons
In 1961, the Soviet government demolished more than 5,000 crosses. Dezidor/Wikimedia Commons
The Hill of Crosses was declared a place of peace, hope, love and sacrifice by Pope John Paul II on September 7, 1993. DarellH/Flickr
A statue of the Virgin Mary looks down upon the sea of metal and wooden crosses. Jorge Dardon/Flickr
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. Replikatorius/Flickr