By Sharon Ojanpa Mackey, FHM Reporter
This was the topic offered at the Finnish Heritage Museum in Fairport Harbor, Ohio, on May 11, 2014, by the Rev. David Laakso. A native of Conneaut, Ohio, and a graduate of the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Rev. Laakso presented a fascinating program, complete with digital slides, as he reflected on some of the churches he and his wife Becky have visited in Finland.
The Rev. Laakso’s paternal grandparents and maternal great-grandparents all emigrated from Finland; with his mother’s grandparents settling in Fairport Harbor, Ohio.
The many hours of darkness in Finland during the winter lend themselves to a sense of isolation, sleepiness, depression, alcoholism, and even suicide. Christianity was introduced into this dark land over a thousand years ago, in 905 AD. How do you proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ in a land of darkness? Through its churches.
The Swedes brought religion to Finland in the form of Catholicism. Later, Michael Agricola, a student of Martin Luther and a native of Finland, introduced the Protestant Reformation to the country, and the Lutheran religion became the official church of Finland.
The gathering space of worship is referred to as the nave, but that word is also understood to be the inverted bottom of a boat. In a land of more than 187,000 lakes, what could be more natural then going to church by boat? Could this be why many church naves depict ships?
The slides shown by the Rev. Laakso depict individual churches, each with a unique story or feature. Many were complemented by pertinent verses from the Bible.
(After the presentation, FHM member Bill Newbury had a wonderful discussion with Rev. Laakso as shown below.)
The church at Petäjävesi is a distinctive timber medieval structure, built between 1763 and 1765. The initials of its carpenters are inscribed in the wooden arches of the ceiling.
At Sysmä, the church has a separate belfry, as do many other churches in Finland. The bells called people to worship, announced a death, and celebrated special occasions.
The church in Vanaja was built in the 1400’s. Perhaps its most unique feature is the external pulpit, which could be used in the summer months. This pulpit is still used once a year in July. The altar screen at Vanaja was carved in Antwerp in the 1500’s, and depicts both the passion of Christ and His birth. There is also a burial vault in the floor of the church, as there are in many of the other old churches.
The church in Ylistaro has three levels and seats 3,000. It was built by piling dirt along the walls, then removing the dirt once the walls were completed and the roof put on.
The ornate walls and ceiling of the church in Taivassalo were painted white by Protestants to wash out the images of Catholicism, but they are now being restored to the original paintings. The stone quarried in Taivassalo has been used in downtown Cleveland and the Inner Harbor In Baltimore.
The most visited site in Finland is the Church of the Rock in Helsinki. It is carved from the rock from which it gets its name, and is definitely worth a visit. Maybe I’ll see you all there.
Text © Sharon Ojanpa Mackey & FHM, Photos © Lasse Hiltunen 2015