Lithuanian Folk Art. Germany, Munich, 1948. P. 36 - 54

But Lithuania is not only a country of wooden churches: she is particularly the land of crosses. Inseparable from the landscape their outlines follow the undulations of the fields and penetrate into the woods. They are placed along the roads, in the proximity of Lithuanian Folk Art. Germany, Munich, 1948. P. 54-61sources, on tombs, on piliakalniai, both in solitary and frequented places. According to legend you find one at every ten paces in Holy Žemaitija. At the cemetery of Vilnius they leave no room for a tree. Though they are originally funereal they are mostly votive offerings. They commemorate a birth, a baptism, the favorable issue of a lawsuit. They are planted in times of epidemics or of drought. They remind the peasant of the successes and misfortunes of his lifetime. Their consecration was celebrated by ancient rites and banquets, at which mead and beer flowed in streams. They often had nothing in common with a cross but the name and the clergy forbade their use. As early as 1426 the church proscribed them. It refused to bless them and had them removed from the neighbourhood of the chapels. Mr. Basanavicius has proved that the origin of these monuments lies far back in primitive beliefs. Trunks of trees, often rudimentary stems, were erected in prehistoric cemeteries. The archives of the churches at Insterburg testify to the custom followed by the Lithuanians up to the 17th century of placing on their tombs figures carved from boards, horses for men and birds for women. Up to the present day in the graveyards of fishermen in the region of Klaipéda (Memel), one may come across toads and fantastically shaped animals carved in oak or in pinewood. They are placed not near the head, but at the feet of the dead. In these monsters cowering on the grave, there is no trace of Christian symbolism. Though their variety seems to be inexhaustible, - Mr. Varnas photographed more than 2000 crosses all differing one from the other - these crosses and steles may be divided into several groups. According to Mr. Galauné, the most ancient type is a simple tree trunk rudely squared. Similar funereal posts have also been found in Russia, in Finland and in Hungary. At their tops there is sometimes a small roof and sometimes a small niche. From these two archaic types stem two series of crosses: the “mushroom cross”, crowned by a gable and the “lantern cross”, consisting of a chapel supported by a pedestal. A third series comprises the crosses properly so called. In these types of craftsmanship on a reduced scale, rather than in churches and dwelling-houses, the woodcutter gives his imagination free play to
produce complicated forms. The roof of the “mushroom cross” is constantly renewed and reshaped as a cone or a pyramid, a star or a Greek cross. Cornices are suspended below it. It is supported by consoles or by twisted columns. They become reliquaries set on high posts. Sometimes a number of such erections are placed one above the other in the shape of strange pagodas. The “lantern type” goes through a similar evolution, small houses replace the ordinary roof, small klétis, the front of which is decorated with two columns, buildings in the shape of a cross or a polygone with spires or small central domes or rotundas. The walls are frequently replaced by pillars. The chapel is often protected by trellis work, by jutty rooms, by openwork balustrades, so that the chapel itself seems to be nearly submerged under the weight of this light burden. It is an architecture of fairy tales and toys. But it is the third group, that of crosses proper, that is the fittest object of such goldsmith's work in boards. It may be combined with the “lanterns”, and then the chapel is placed at the crossing of the arms. In some cases the chapel disappears completely, leaving nothing behind but its back wall, which then becomes an independent element of ornamentation, a shield with capricious outlines fixed at the intersection of the arms of the cross. One could have thought that henceforth all traces of the ancient themes had disappeared, but such is not the case. Around the cross, with or without a chapel, there are often placed wheels and disks of fire. As in Ireland there are frequently to be seen circles or fan shaped arrays of arrows, leafwork, palm leaves, wreaths of flowers. Sometimes their dimensions do not exceed those of a simple aureole, but in certain cases the cross is submerged thereunder. To the now barely discernible Christian symbol another element is joined, the origin of which goes back to pagan traditions. It is a surviving remnant of prehistoric forms and of the ancient worship of the celestial bodies. Sun wheels are revived and eclipse the symbol of Christ. The myth is also preserved in the legends transmitted by word of mouth. There can be no doubt that the most ancient forms are those in which the wheel prevails. Sunk in the flames of the former god, the emblem of the new religion is lost at first in the conflagration and only emerges from it gradually. Gradually also the light of the celestial body diminishes and transforms itself into an aureole. For a long time both symbols are at par, but later the cross emerges. It has often several arms, each of which itself bears several arms. Finally the last of these accessories disappears and the cross alone remains in its traditional simplicity. The large grave crosses that stand inclined all over the open country belong to the most recent type. Small votive chapels are scattered in the woods and in the meadows. They only came into fashion at some later time and they are especially frequent in Žemaitija. They shelter small statuettes and offerings are usually deposited there, such als strings of beads of amber or glass, ribbons, colored tissues, artificial flowers and frequently also pocket mirrors, to which some particular meaning seems to be attached. Small statuettes of the Holy Virgin are surrounded by bits of looking glass, that reflect and multiply her image. Sometimes such chapels are suspended aloft on trees, sometimes they stand on the ground or on a base of stone. These are the cages or the cabins of the Saints. The “cages” often attached to oaks, firs and pines, do not differ essentially from the small “houses” set upon pillars and crosses, but the ‘cabins” constitute a distinct series. They are much larger, their height sometimes attaining two meters, they are no longer toy houses and not yet real houses. Sometimes they consist of an old excavated tree trunk, surmounted by a conical roof, the statuette itself is placed in the very heart of the tree. They sometimes reproduce the klétis type of church or its pyramid-shaped steeple, and often they are built on a circular, hexagonal or octagonal plan. They are easier to make on account of their reduced scale, which presents the double effect of a church and piece of furniture. These monuments abound in inventions, but they are not the work of ornamentalists like the lanterns. The decorative elements of Western buildings are adapted to them and the Gothic as well as the classic forms are reproduced there according to the taste of the joiner. The small chapels are loaded with spires and ornamental flowers. Broken arches run along the walls and join the colonnades. The various themes are thrown into one and recast. Out of this mixture arose a fantastic miniature architecture, a Pompeian style of the Middle Ages, similar to that of the tabernacles and stained glass windows of churches. Baroque designs treated with liberty and measure are also frequent. Nothing is forgotten here, pinions, broken gables, delicately outlined roofs and so on. Cornices, entablatures, pillars, capitals and mouldings are carved with the greatest skill and an eye for detail. Imaginary and real at the same time, these small tempietti lost amid the vegetation, seem to have been devised to receive the smaller deities of Nature. Similarly to the steles, crosses and churches, these chapels are frequently surmounted with ornaments in wrought iron. These appear later than the wooden solar roses, but continue their tradition. Until the end of the 18th century they usually represent the signs of celestial bodies, the sun, the crescent moon or celestial wheels. Later the cross appears, but it is often broken up by the geometrical ornamentations. Sometimes each arm bears supplementary arms, sometimes the horizontal arms are double or even treble. Angels, animals, persons and certain Oriental images are also represented. But the design is always dominated by the theme of radiation. Arrows stream forth in all directions, regularly undulated sword blades, idealized vegetation, tulips which are already to be found on prehistoric jewelry, the uruta, the national flower and branches of fir. When executed in metal they retain all the hardness and refinement of the material of which they are made. In these complicated networks all the parts are cleverly united and cut with cold precision. The monuments are crowned by iron crystals resembling blackened crystals of snow.

Old lithuanian sculpture, crosses and shrine