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Fot. Terminator216, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Monument of the Three Crosses – one of the most recognisable symbols of Vilnius

The monument to the Three Crosses on Three Crosses Hill (Lit. Trijų kryžių kalnas) is one of the most recognisable symbols of Vilnius. It is also a mirror image of the history of the city and the whole country. The brick building was erected at the beginning of the 20th century and survived until the 1950s, when the Soviet authorities blew it up because it was an important religious accent in the city skyline. The monument was only rebuilt in 1989, after Lithuania regained its independence.

According to legend, seven Franciscans were martyred on Mount Lysá (now Třešėna) during the reign of Olgirdas. Four were thrown down into the Vileyka river, while three crosses with the bodies of the martyrs were erected on the summit. To commemorate their martyrdom, the Vilnius Franciscans erected three wooden crosses on Lysá hora between 1613 and 1636.

“Massacre of the Franciscans in 1333”. Y. Perleja, 1770. Photo by J. Perli – National Library. G.2036. Drėma V. Dingęs Vilnius. Vilnius, 2013.

However, the legend has not been confirmed by historical sources. Another one says that the crosses were erected after Lithuania was baptised, so that the Teutonic Knights who set out for Vilnius could see the Christian symbols from afar. According to the last theory, the crosses were erected in gratitude for the disappearance of the plague. In 1740, the crumbling structures were replaced by new ones, which lasted until 1869. When they needed to be replaced again, the Tsarist authorities did not allow them to be rebuilt. It was not until 1916, during the German occupation, that funds were raised on the initiative of Monsignor Kazimierz Michalkiewicz and concrete crosses were erected, designed by Vilnius sculptor Antoni Wiwulski.

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Photo from an interwar postcard depicting the monument, 1925. Photo by L. Wysocki – National Library. Postt.6079

The three crosses survived the Second World War and towered over Vilnius for 34 years. on 30 May 1950, by order of the Soviet authorities, they were unexpectedly blown up, as they were an important religious accent in the city skyline. Some of the ruins were taken away, while larger fragments were buried. In 1989, Lithuanian society decided to reconstruct the crosses as a memorial to the victims of Stalinism in Lithuania. The monument to the Three Crosses, rebuilt in 14 days, was unveiled on 14 June 1989 and consecrated by Cardinal Vincentas Sladkevičius. The architect of the reinforced concrete structure was H. K. Šilgalis.

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Photo Terminator216, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Some of the unearthed remnants of the former monument have been walled into the foundations, while some can be seen below the monument. The new crosses are the same as the Wiwulski monument, only they have been raised by 1.8 metres and given a lighter colour. Today, the Hill of Three Crosses is located within the Upper Park (Kalnų Parkas), and from its top one can enjoy a beautiful panoramic view of Vilnius Old Town. the 12-metre-high monument has become a symbol of Lithuanian national identity. Nowadays, it is often illuminated with different colours to commemorate events important to Lithuania and the world. It still towers over Vilnius as it did more than a century ago.

Source: poznajwilno.pl, govilnius.lt

Read also: City | History | Sculpture | Lithuania | Interesting facts

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