|In the 14th century, when it was united with Poland,
Lithuania became a Christian country. It was the last nation in Europe
to accept Christianity. Today, about three-quarters of Lithuanians are
Roman Catholic. About 5% of the population is Russian Orthodox and there
are also small communities of Protestant Uniates (a sect that unites elements
of Catholic and Orthodox beliefs) and Old Believers (an Orthodox sect that
rejected certain reforms to the Orthodox Church).
During the Soviet era, the Catholic Church was suppressed and many Lithuanian Catholic priests were deported to Siberia. Churches were converted to warehouses and monasteries were closed. Nevertheless, many Lithuanians privately maintained their faith and the church became associated with the nationalist cause. After independence, churches were reopened and many Lithuanians received adult baptism or reconfirmed their marriage vows in a church.
|The Hill of Crosses, located in the
north-central part of the country near the town of Šauliai, is one of the
most significant religious and national sites in Lithuania. The hill is
entirely covered with wooden and iron crosses of all sizes. It is thought
that the first crosses were set on the summit of the hill to honour those
who revolted against the czarist regime in the 1830s and that more were
added after the rebellion of the 1860s. In the 1950s, Lithuanians erected
crosses in memory of those who had died in exile in Siberia under the Soviet
regime. The Soviets bulldozed the hill in the 1960s and destroyed the crosses,
but the Lithuanians continued to erect new crosses. Since independence,
thousands of crosses have been added by Lithuanians from throughout the
world. Pope John Paul II contributed a cross during his visit in 1993.
Before the country's official acceptance
of Christianity in 1387, Lithuanians practised a form of nature worship.
They believed all natural things, including trees, streams and rocks, possessed
a spirit, and they worshipped phenomena such as thunder, rain and storms.
Religious rituals were held outdoors, usually in a sacred grove of trees
or by the waters of a holy stream. People also believed strongly in an
afterlife. The dead were buried with the household objects, food and drink
that they would need in the afterlife. Warriors and leaders were sometimes
buried with their horses. Today, a few Lithuanians keep these ancient beliefs