Christian PilgrimagePilgrimages in LithuaniaJohn Paul II and Lithuania

We adore you, Lord Jesus Christ, because by your Cross you redeemed the world!
S. F. Fleury fotografija

Traditions of Piety

Vilnius Calvary was solemnly blessed on June 9, 1669, the feast of Pentecost. As the church bells tolled, and in the presence of numerous clergy, Vilnius Bishop Aleksandras Sapiega (1624–1671) spoke to gathered pilgrims at the first station, “the Last Supper”. Then he led them along the Way of the Cross. At various points, he scattered earth that had been brought from Jerusalem to strengthen the shrine’s symbolic link with the Holy Land. Bishop Sapiega granted a plenary indulgence to all the participants in that procession, and to everyone who would later come and piously visit each of the stations commemorating Christ’s Passion.

Since then, Vilnius Calvary has become a popular pilgrimage destination. Pious traditions here survived the closure of the monastery by tsarist authorities. Crowds would still gather here on Good Friday, Pentecost, the feasts of the Invention and Exaltation of the Holy Cross, the Assumption, and other feast days. Beginning in 1854, the so-called 40 Hours Devotion was held here on the feast of the Assumption and on Pentecost Saturday, Sunday and Monday, including a large procession along the Way of the Cross.

Not even the Soviet authorities, who tore down the chapels at Vilnius Calvary, managed to stop pious visits to the place. To preserve the route of the Way of the Cross, people marked the sites of the former chapels by planting flowers in their foundations and piling stones there in the form of crosses. The paths between the chapel-stations remained distinct due to the individuals and groups of pilgrims who continued to walk them.

Vilnius Calvary still today attracts multitudes of pilgrims from all of Lithuania on Pentecost for a three-day indulgenced feast. The first day, Friday, is especially for priests and members of religious orders. On the second day, Saturday, children and young people attend Holy Mass and follow the Way of the Cross, then hold an evening of agape, praise, concerts and other activities. The main solemnities take place on Pentecost Sunday, including an outdoor Mass by the Church of the Invention of the Holy Cross, during which the Sacrament of Confirmation is conferred.

Pilgrims usually begin the Way of the Cross from the chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows in Baltupiai, and finish with Holy Mass at the Church of the Invention of the Holy Cross. It typically takes about 4 hours to prayerfully follow the 7-kilometre route. People are often moved by the fact that the length of this Calvary and the distances between the stations correspond to those on the Way of the Cross trod by Christ in the Holy Land. Many believe that the waters of the Cedron stream have holy powers, and some wade into it barefoot. Pilgrims stop at each station to read or reflect on relevant Gospel texts and to sing hymns.

People follow the Way of the Cross at Vilnius Calvary all year round, whether alone or in groups large and small. Even so, according to tradition, the formal “season” for the Way of the Cross here begins on May 3, the feast of the Invention of the Holy Cross, or on the first Saturday in May, and ends on September 14, the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. The foremost days are the three during which Pentecost is celebrated. A plenary indulgence is granted to pilgrims who follow the Way of the Cross between the first Sunday of May and September 14. Traditionally, Good Friday is also a day for the Stations of the Cross.

In the church, it is possible to pray before a relic of the Holy Cross displayed under a glass cover at the side altar of Our Lady of Sorrows. Participants in the annual indulgenced feast at Vilnius Calvary are blessed with this fragment of wood from the Lord’s Cross after the solemn Mass.