by Carol A. Westbrook
Jurgis Daugvilla (1923-2008) was an artist, and a master carver of wood sculptures in the tradition of Lithuanian folk artists. He was a neighbor, and a friend of my husband, Rick, a third-generation Lithuanian. “Richard,” he would say, “Your house is at the crossroads of our town. You should have a Kryžius in your yard.”
“Kryžius” (pronounced “kree'-jus) means “cross,” and refers to the tall, totem-pole-like wooden carvings which appear as roadside shrines throughout Lithuania. The tradition goes back to pagan times, when they were used to mark sites of cult offerings, especially at crossroads and burial grounds. The monuments featured folk carvings, with peaked roofs for protection from the elements. When Christianity arrived at the end of the 14th century, the pagan monuments were topped with crosses, allowing for their preservation by converting them into emblems of faith. Every region in Lithuanian had its particular cross-making traditions, incorporating folk symbols,
pagan cults, geometrical shapes and religious icons.They were found throughout the countryside, but especially at crossroads and cemeteries, continuing in the pagan tradition.
Christianity did not halt this tradition, but politics did. Because of their significance as a national and religious symbol, many of these crosses were destroyed during the Soviet occupation, 1944-1990. The famous “Hill of Crosses” in northern Lithuania became a symbol of peaceful resistance, as crosses were added while the Soviets attempted to remove them, bulldozing the site at least three times. In 1990 there were 55,000 crosses on the hill, and today there are over 100,000. The Kryžius remains an important symbol of Lithuanian nationalism, and new ones have begun to re-appear across the landscape.
Jurgis, himself a Lithuanian who immigrated to the US in 1949, remembered this tradition of woodcarving, and sought to perpetuate in his adopted country. Jurgis, like many of the immigrants, was welcomed into Chicago, and eventually hemade his way to our town of Beverly Shores, Indiana, which also houses many residents of Lithuanian descent. Jurgis produced a number of carvings in the Lithuanian folk style, and some are visible throughout the town, including door and window ornamentation, and Kryžius's.
Yes, Jurgis was right. Our home was at the crossroads. We needed a Kryžius, and Rick commissioned Jurgis to create one for us.
Our Kryžius, shown above, has a religious carving on each of the four sides. In this view you can see the weeping Christ on the right, while the Blessed Virgin Mary is on the left. St. John Nepomucene faces the lake to the north (not shown). Rick requested an image of his family's patron, St. Rochas (aka St. Roch, or St. Rocco). His family's original surname, Rakauskas, is the Lithuanian word for “Rock,” which comes from the same root as Rochas, while the saint's August 16 feast day is almost on Rick's birthday. In our Kryžius, St. Rochas is in the panel which looks
toward our house (shown on the left). This saint is usually depicted lifting his tunic to show the plague sore on his leg; our panel does not include his usual companion, a dog. The top of our Kryžius features angels supporting the peaked roof, which is topped by a wrought-iron cross.
There are two other Kryžius's in Beverly Shores. Both were carved by Daugvilla and are located near a junction or crossroads. The Kryžius in Daugvilla's yard, also near a crossroads, is simply carved in the folk tradition and is topped with angels holding a cross.
The third Kryžius, on the right, is elaborately carved with three tiers. The face seen from the road shows a saint with a crown or mitre, holding a sheaf of grain. I don't know the saint's identify, though I'd like to think it is St. Arnold, Bishop of Metz, the patron saint of beer. The upper tier shows the crucified Christ, and the elaborate roof is, of course, topped with a crucifix. Note, too, the intricately carved door and entryway to this house, also created by Daugvilla.
Our town is very proud of these historic reminders of its Lithuanian heritage, which celebrate its close ties to our natural surroundings on the Indiana dunes, and the religious freedom that we all enjoy.
Jurgis Daugvilla was well-known in the arts community of Chicago, and especially highly regarded by the Lithuanians. In 1999 he was awarded the Cultural Prize of the Lithuanian Community, the highest honor an artist can receive in the world wide diaspora of his countrymen. He died in 2008.
This story will be featured in the December 2016 edition of “Sand Tracks,” a publication of the Association of Beverly Shores Residents. © Carol A. Westbrook