In Lithuania, the last European state to abandon paganism officially in 1387, Cross Crafting is referred to the tradition of making crosses and altars. Crosses were built in Lithuania even during Soviet ruling. With incorporation into the Orthodox Russian Empire in the 19th century, and even more so under the Soviet Regime, these crosses became the symbol of Lithuanian national and religious identity.
The crosses which are carved out of oak are linked to Catholic rituals as well as to Harvest celebrations. They represent a culture that is more than 400 years old, whose roots are rechristened and ought to be found in pagan traditions.
Lithuanian paganism reinstates the link between man and nature and sees other polytheistic traditional faiths, including Hindu, to be more acceptable than either monotheism or atheism.
Lithuanian language holds similarities to Sanskrit because both languages fall under the branch of Proto Indo-European.
Modern paganism is called Romuva. The Romuva are the fastest-growing religious community in Lithuania. Their membership has increased from 1270 to some 5100 between censae years 2001 and 2011. Romuva was named after a temple of tranquility that existed in the pre-medieval period, founded by the Lithuanian duke Skirmantas.
Crosses are between one and five metres high and are often adorned with a small roof and floral or geometric decorations. Once the cross has been consecrated by the priest, it takes on a unique sacred significance.
At the crosses, different offerings are sometimes made during prayer requests, including food, coloured scarves or aprons which symbolise fertility! The crosses are placed on roadsides, on entrances to the villages, near other monuments or in cemeteries.
The most famous Lithuanian cross crafter was Vincas Svirskis (1835-1916) whose crosses are now kept in national museums.
Feature image: Hill of Crosses by Guillaume Spurt, Flickr