“Y entre letras de canciones multiplican su aventura.”
– Infieles, Don Omar
One of the sites that put Lithuania on the itinerary of my Baltic expedition was the Hill of Crosses (Kryžiu Kalnas), pictured above. It is located about 12 kilometers outside of Šiauliai, and is an adventure to get to. I hear in the summer you can rent a bike in town and cycle all the way here. I came in the early winter, when it was -3 (not that bad, actually) degrees and freezing, but fortunately sunny. (My next day in Vilnius, by contrast, was rainy and wet and rather miserable.)
Negotiating with the local bus driver about where to get off without being able to speak a word of Lithuanian or Russian was an interesting experience. From the look of ludicrousness he gave me as he allowed me to disembark, I knew that he thought me loca for wanting to come to this site in the middle of nowhere: I was alone, the road was deserted, and I was clearly not even Christian, for God’s sake. His look reassured me one thing I’d come to believe from my travels: some things could transcend any and all linguistic barriers, and be said simply without words.
The Hill of Crosses to me inspired both awe and eeriness. Stacks and stacks of wooden and metal crosses accummulated over many decades create a dense — and entirely man-made — forest of crucifixes. I’d of course seen photos of this pilgrimage site while planning my trip, but nothing could quite compare to the phenomenological reality of actually standing on the wooden walkway cutting right through the site, surrounded by 40,000 crosses of every size imaginable half-buried in last night’s snow. This place was truly bizarre — no doubt about it. Bright sunlight uplifted the atmosphere slightly. Without it, the isolation of being here, in such a place, with no one else around, would have been quite a mysterious experience.
One does wonder in what name these crosses were erected here. What, and more importantly, who did these pilgrims pray for? If each and every one of these crosses represented a hope, desire, or prayer, imagine how many desperate souls had come to this auspicious site of pilgrimage to seek some divine guidance and assistance. Were their prayers answered?
My own religious inclinations were irrelevant during my time here; I believe one need not be Christian to appreciate a truly spiritually unique site such as this. I did keep my spiritual radar on high alert while here, and it definitely picked up some good vibes.
The Hill of Crosses was essentially my entire reason for being in the Baltic last December, but from my wanderings through Tallinn, Rīga, and Vilnius, I’d come to love and appreciate this region for so much more. A return in the future seems inevitable.