By Lasse O. Hiltunen

Historically, the Finns have found a spiritual belief and church attendance more than a requisite; they had woven it into their very life fabric. The physical church was most likely in the center of every Finnish community to serve as the hub of daily or weekly activity. At the very least, members would attend the Sunday service which was deemed mandatory, by custom and not necessarily by rules.

Life in Finland for many was a difficult life, with so much dependent upon items which were simply out of the control of man’s efforts. Crops, medical issues, births, money, land and other things brought hardships, often drastically changing the lives of that particular family unit. Add to that, domination by other countries or principalships which added to that suffering.

Even with those handicaps, the strength of the Finnish resolve shines through. Rather than have those consequences overwhelm the Finns, they turned to their pastors and to the physical church to help them through whichever harm or possible ruin lay within their futures. The church building became so central that pictures, paintings, needlepoints, or church symbols or artifacts decorated their front or sitting rooms.

The Finnish Heritage Museum used these ideas to capture the real spirit and meaning of churches which were in their family’ s history. Thus through audience participation, many churches were discussed, and many fascinating artifacts were shared.

virpiVirpi Pakkala Buck presented the Isojoki Church, which is located in western Finland, in Southern Ostrobothnia. Along with Bill Luoma, Virpi Pakkala Buck shows the church and poor men sculptures. 

The church was built because of a long ride to Lapväärtin from Isojoki, about 20 miles. The first was a sermon room built in 1733 but that was remodeled later, and finally a Carl Ludvig Engel design was built by Kuorikosten and finished in 1833.

Virpi lived in a house across the street from the church. She related that it was a Christmas tradition to take a sleigh ride to church. Virpi’s father George would take many different routes to lengthen the “across the street” trip, providing many beautiful memories. Virpi also stated that many of her relatives are buried in the cemetery which surrounds the church. She described the beautiful lilies of the valley and geraniums which bloom there in season.

Mentioned also was the “Poor Man” carving which is in front of the church. Common in many churches, this serves as a collector for the poor in town. Money is donated by putting it through the hole in the stomach, which is then distributed to the poor. The Vaasa area and northern Finland churches have these poor man statues. It was revealed later in the meeting that many of these poor man statues were carved by a Frenchman, and thus looked like French men.

jeffwJeff Werronen (on the right) presented the Laihia Church, built in 1805, which is in Ostobothnia, less than ten miles from Vaasa. The population of about 8000 is known for its frugality, producing many jokes and light hearted stories of this quality. The town even has a “Museum of Stinginess!” Werronen’s mumma immigrated from there to the USA in 1902, bring with her the quality of lifelong attendance at Zion Lutheran Church in Fairport.

John Kangas (below) presented a brief history of the Karstula Church and why it was important in his family. That church was designed by Anders Fredrik Granstedt and built in 1851-53. John was intrigued by the altar picture of a lamb. johnk

Lasse Hiltunen presented the church in Porvoo and showed four slides depicting the outside of the church, the beautiful pulpit, and a map of the area. He related that Poorvo was important as a trade center since it was at a juncture of the sea and the river. It was a north-south distribution point. The Poorvo Church was important to him because his paternal grandparents were married in that church.

elaineElaine Kangas (on right) showed a painting of the old Isokyron church which was done on a slice of wood. She also showed a wood carving, a replica of the Holy Virgin, which had an intricate history involving the King of Sweden. The wood is actually a piece originating from the old Isokyron church’s bell tower wall. She exhibited her mother Sylvia Mononen Holson’s needlepoint of the church which prominently hung in the living room.

Millie Laituri proudly displayed a book titled “Isokyron Vanhan Kirkon Seinamaalaukset” which depicts the paintings found in the old church. Millie shows her book below.millie



Ann Kalliomaa Pohto not only introduced the program but also revealed some important facts. There are approximately 32 families in the Lake County area that are from the Isokyro and Ylistaro area. She rapidly read off surnames: Lehtonen, Hietanen, Mononen, Mietty, Saari, Katila, Ollila, Ojanpaa, Wakkila, Kiikka, Ritari, Somppi, Knuutila, Vasti, Hilston, Kalliomaa, Pohto, Salo, Hietamaki (Sandhill), Palo, Hautamaki (Hill), Taipale, Tuuri, Killinen, Nortunen, Pakkala, Hissa, Luoma, Braski, Liimakka, Harri, and Perttu.

In her presentation she displayed a necklace and a stone church T-shirt. The stone church depicts the old Isokyro Church which also has a dramatic and important history. She mentioned the medieval wood carvings which are extremely valuable. Pohto recounted the story of the 1560’s wall paintings done in three sections: top, the old testament; middle, Jesus’s life; lowest, the gospels. In 1666 the paintings were whitewashed because they were “unorthodox or primitive” and remained covered until 200 years later. They were discovered by a painter who chipped the whitewash and found them underneath.AnneK


Interestingly, the parish’s dead were buried under the church floor until 1770, when interment was begun out doors. Also service seating was unusual with men and women sitting on either side of the aisle, and the pews assigned according to community social standing. Woeful wrong doers were punished in the stocks outside the church.

Heikki Penttila presented his and his wife’s recent visit to Finland by describing three churches they visited: the Kerimäen Kirkko, the Karstunen Kirkko, and the Temppeliaukio Church (Rock Church). All were impressive in their own ways.

Both the Kerimäen Kirkko and the Karstunen Kirkko were built by Heikki’s relatives who were church builders in the central Pohjonmaa area. Of interest to the audience were the items brought from Karstunen Kirkko which is undergoing renovation at this time. Instead of tar paper used as underlayment on the roof, sheets of birch bark were used instead. Heikki described the pine shingles which originally were two inches thick and about 24 inches long and held in place by a single five inch, tar coated nail. These are being replace by 1 and 1/4 inch thick pieces. All 36 thousand shingles were hand hewn by carpenters on the site.

Penttila had the opportunity to climb the scaffolding to the roof and gaze upon the countryside which he described as absolutely gorgeous.

His visit to the Kerimäen Kirkko was interesting since the church is world’s largest wooden church. It is 45 meters long, 42 meters wide, and 27 meters high. There are 1670 meters of “straight backed” pews and a seating capacity of 3000, plus standing room yielding another 2000. When built, the Rev Fredrik Neovius had the opinion that the church should be large enough to hold the entire town to worship at one time. The church, because of heating restrictions is only used during Summer months.

chuckhChuck Hilston described his trip from Helsinki to Isokyro which took four and a half hours by car. He found all the people to be helpful, charming, and very polite. He also related that he was given the family 1890’s era Bible for safekeeping, because his Aunt found him to be most qualified for that honor.

Eric Jylanki related a brief history of his maternal grandmother’s church, in Siikainen, Finland.

Refreshments were provide by Elaine Kangas and Barb Ollila.

Other significant pictures are found below:

Anne Kalliomaa Pohto presented the old Isokyro church in a beautiful painting.












Shown to the left is a wood carving, a replica of the Holy Virgin, which had an intricate history involving the King of Sweden. The wood is actually a piece originating from the old Isokyron church’s bell tower wall.  The piece is roughly 10 inches high and 3 inches wide.  Shown directly below is a large (approx: 20 by 24 inches) needlepoint  which was crafted by her mother Sylvia Mononen and hung prominently in the living room.  Both were brought in by Elaine Kangas.





Shown to the right is the very ornate pulpit found in the Poorvo Church.  Shown below is the church.  Hiltunen's grandparents were married in the church.  (photos by L. Hiltunen)


Refreshments were provided by Elaine Kangas and Barb Olilla. 

Text:  © Lasse O. Hiltunen, Museum photos: © Bill Lukshaw, FHM photographer


Our next program is "If you want to WIN, hire a FINN!" given by Tom Fazekas. 















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