The account we will share with you is one of the most unusual Miracles of the Cross we have researched. In order to explain the Miracle of the Hill of Crosses, we must give you a little background on the Lithuanian people. They are a marvelous people, stronger and more faithful to the Church than most ethnic groups we have ever met. If the term, “Holy Stubbornness” ever applied to any group of people, the Lithuanians would be at the top of the list.
They have gone through so many periods of occupation by their enemies, but have never accepted themselves as having been conquered. Russia has always been part of their existence, or rather their cross. From the earliest days, they have battled for their own independence. In the Fifteenth century, they formed an alliance with Poland called the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. This was in an effort to keep Russia out. It had its good points and its bad points. The good points were that they converted to Christianity under their alliance with the Poles. They even accepted the Polish customs and language.
The bad thing was it didn’t last very long. Less than fifty years later, the Russians took over Lithuania again. One of the tricks of invaders has always been divide and conquer. That’s how they dissipated the power of Poland and Lithuania. Between the Russians, the Prussians and the Austrians, they divided the country into three parts. Lithuania and Poland set up guerrilla forces against the Russian despots, but they never had enough strength.
When the Bolsheviks overthrew the Tsars, Lithuania thought they had a chance at self-government, but then the German Army took over the country during World War I. As soon as it ended, Lithuania felt she had an open window of opportunity. She took it, and declared Lithuania an independent country. Almost immediately, the Bolsheviks came in and took over the country.
The provisional Lithuanian government went into exile in Kaunas, and has been in exile in one form or another from that time on.
After Adolph Hitler came to power in Germany in the 1930s, Nazi Party propaganda agitated Germans to rise up against Lithuania over the territory of Memel, located on the Baltic coast. Largely Lithuanian-inhabited Memel was part of Germany before World War I, but the Allied Powers put it under Lithuanian administration, and in 1923 Lithuania annexed it to gain a seaport. In March 1939 Hitler reannexed the territory. Nazi Germany attacked Poland in September, 1939, marking the outbreak of World War II. This Hitler did, after signing a non aggression pact with the USSR. The pact contained a secret codicil which assigned Lithuania to the German sphere of influence; however, later that month the pact was amended to add most of Lithuania to the territories assigned to the USSR. The upshot of all this was the USSR was able to take over Lithuania without this little country having a word to say about it.
In June 1940 the Soviet Red Army invaded Lithuania, and a new pro-Soviet government was installed. Only the Communist Working People’s Bloc, a party organized and led by Soviet Communists, was allowed to participate in the parliamentary elections held in July. The following month Lithuania formally became the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic (S.S.R.), a constituent republic of the USSR.
However, the United States and other democratic powers refused to recognize the legality of the Soviet annexation. This was when Lithuania officially became a nation in exile, with all the major countries accepting Lithuania on that basis. This lasted for almost 60 years. When the Soviet Union finally crumbled in 1989, the only country they insisted they maintain control of was, you guessed it, Lithuania.
How have the Lithuanian people held on, with one invader after the other lusting after this seaside country and its resources? If
Poland was a corridor between Russia and Germany, Lithuania was the carpet they crushed as they lusted, lunged and tried to liquidate. What her invaders did not know was the real treasure, the real resource they could never own, and that was the Lithuanian people.
We knew such people! There was a family living in our parish in Southern California, who spent their every waking moment, telling whoever would listen, the plight of the Lithuanian people under U.S.S.R. occupation; they showed photos and videos of a Holy Stubborn people who would not be conquered. What was God’s reward? Their son became a priest and is now serving under the Archbishop Sigitas of Kaunas, Lithuania.
Another example of the power of this people to resist all forms of threats and torture is this same Archbishop, who spent five years in a concentration camp in Siberia, celebrating Holy Mass clandestinely, at the risk of his life and those of the prisoners participating. He would save what little rations of bread he had and use it for the Mass. He would not allow the prisoners to sacrifice what meager provisions they received. When we interviewed him for EWTN, we asked him to speak to the priests in the world. He called his brother priests and bishops to be holy Priests and bishops, as they are called to be holy as God is holy, victim-priest in communion, one with the Victim-Priest - Jesus Christ.
Enough said, if you want to know the Lithuanian people you need only to go to Siauliai, Lithuania, to the Mount of Crosses. As you approach this mount, the breathtaking image of suffering - the mass array of crosses lining the mount, the evidence of the relentless faith of the people, hits you and you find yourself a fan of the faithful of Lithuania, forever. There are tens of thousands of crosses of every size, shape and type, or should I better say, crucifixes; because their Lord is on the Cross, on every Cross. He has been their strength and their hope; what else did they need! Holy Scripture tells us if only we had the faith of a mustard seed, we could move mountains. This Mount of Crosses and its story is a contrast in faiths, faith in the One and Only God and its antithesis - faith in the forces of the anti-Christ.
These crosses are made of wood, cast or forged iron, some are inlayed with precious amber, others embroidered or knitted, there are those towering crosses mounted in concrete and smaller ones perched in a bottle. They range from the quite primitive to the magnificently sculpted; from the barely visible to the majestic monuments looming high into the blue sky framing them. It is truly an awesome sight. From a short distance it almost appears to be a small planet crowned with crosses. Whether you view the Mount gleaming brightly in the light of the sun’s rays or see her haunting beauty framed by overcast skies - the rain cascading down from the heavens as if the Angels were spilling their tears on it, it is truly God’s wonder.
Lithuania - Land of Crosses
The struggles of the Mount of Crosses so closely parallel those of their motherland, Lithuania. When you look at the Mount of Crosses, it is like opening a history book; between its pages - hope and helplessness, victories with subjugation close by; but never once do you read despair or defeat in those crosses nor in the hearts of the Lithuanian people.
As in other European countries, from the very beginning of their acceptance of the Church in Lithuania, there have been wayside chapels with the Suffering Christ. Villagers would pass by and don their caps, make the sign of the Cross and pray! So the love of the Cross has always been paramount in the hearts of the Lithuanian people. As History has destined from the very beginning that the road for Lithuania is to be marked by crosses, the faithful place these crosses in prominent places. Is it perhaps to remind them that they are not alone, that He Who walked the Way of the Cross, walks beside them always?
How did the Mount of the Cross begin?
No one can accurately document when the custom of placing the crosses on the Mount began, but allow us to pass on some accounts gathered over time.
According to a historian of the Nineteenth Century, the Mount was originally used to worship pagan gods. A sacred fire, attended by young priestesses, was burnt there. With the arrival of Christianity, the pagan traditions gave way to those of the Christians; hence the crosses.
The locals told him that the first crosses were put up after the uprising of 1831. Relatives of the fallen insurgents, ignorant of the burial place of their dear ones and afraid of persecution by the tsarist authorities, should they discover they were related to the patriots, would put up a cross in their loved ones’ memory on the Mount. The tradition continued after the Uprising of 1863 and 1864. Old photos show crosses placed only on the top of the Mount. “Now the Mount looks like a forest of trees; there are so many of them. I counted some 130 on the top. Besides there is a little church there.” wrote the historian.
In 1914, when they excavated the Mount, they discovered stone articles, lime and bricks. In 1991, when historians were permitted to explore parts of the Mount, they excavated artifacts of ornamental ceramics, a silver broach, knives, chisels and an arrowhead. The historians attributed the finds to the 13th or 14th Centuries. Life on the Mount was peaceful and for the most part uneventful, except for the times when raiders attacked the settlement.
The Mount of Crosses guards some of the deepest secrets of Lithuania’s history. A monumental battle raged nearby. Then in more modern times, Lithuanian patriots fought against the Bermont gangs (Bermont was a Russian general who defected and joined the German Army). So in Lithuania, like in Poland, if it was not one oppressor, it was another.
With the passage of time, more and more crosses were placed on the Mount. It has always been a place of prayer and like the Cross it so gloriously honors, it has always been looked upon as a living monument of faith and hope.
Other accounts include: A great battle raged in Lithuania, with many brave hearts falling trying to defend their country. Mourning relatives built the Mount in three days and nights and in their memory buried their loved ones there.
Then there is another account where there was a villager who fell sleep while trying to nurse his ailing daughter out of danger. As he slept, he dreamt of a woman wearing a white robe, who told him if he would place a cross on the Mount, his daughter would be healed. A deeply devoted man, he scaled the hill and placed a cross upon it. On the way down who should he encounter but his daughter, well, completely healed!