The wooden church in the middle of the Finnish Lake District was built between 1763 and 1764 under the direction of the builder Jaakko Klemetinpoika Leppänen. It combines elements of Central European architecture with ancient local block construction.
Petäjävesi Church: facts
|Official title:||Petäjävesi Church|
|Cultural monument:||a church built on a cross ground plan with a high shingled hipped roof and a horizontal block construction based on a design by Jaakko Klemetinpoika Leppänen, main and transepts each 17 m long|
|Location:||Petäjävesi, east of Keuruu|
|Meaning:||Lutheran village church in traditional wooden construction from Eastern Scandinavia|
Petäjävesi Church: History
|1763-64||Central building in Renaissance style combined with Gothic forms|
|1778||Consecration of the little church|
|1821||Construction of the bell tower and extension by Erkki Leppänen|
|1879||Church of the independent parish of Petäjävesi|
|1953||Renewal of the roof shingles|
A fascinating relic made of wood
Everything man-made is finite, and places of worship also have their fate: when the old church in Petäjävesi no longer met the demands of the community a good hundred years ago, it was decommissioned. Later born moved up a new building; more modern than those of the church pioneers, who had placed theirs in the middle of the landscape on a lake shore so that they could be reached by boat in summer and by sledge and on skis in winter. The old church was only good as a shed for the wood supply. Fortunately, the Austrian architect Josef Strzygowsky recognized the historical importance of the little church in the 1920s and strongly recommended to the Finnish authorities in the responsible province of Keski-Suomi and in Helsinki, that such a piece of church history should not be allowed to fall into disrepair. Only then did the planned demolition of the old wooden chapel be abandoned.
According to naturegnosis, today visitors stand in front of a monument of traditional Finnish architecture: while Nordic church architecture is largely represented by stave churches, churches in Finnish block construction, i.e. with trunks laid parallel to the ground, are rather rare. The preserved church is the work of the carpenter Jaakko Klemetinpoika Leppänen, who took three years to complete in the middle of the 18th century; It was only thanks to a painstakingly collected collection that construction could even begin. However, the bell tower was missing at the inauguration, because the “pious donation” was not enough. This was only added decades later by Erkki Leppänen; further collections made a one-story, short connecting passage between the church and the bell tower possible. Unusual, if not historically unique, is the use of the tower as an armory. As many men went to church armed because of the feared attacks by bears and wolves, they had to put their weapons there before attending the service.
Both Leppänens were “barefoot architects”, self-taught without training. Together with the villagers, they rolled up their sleeves and began construction without a permit. The poor rural community officially belonged to the parish of Jämsä – it was therefore initially only given the building as a community chapel. It took more than ten years for it to be dedicated as an official church.
Today’s art-loving observer stands in front of a clapboard-roofed church with a steep hipped roof that can be seen from afar, suggesting a Gothic tradition. When entering the old church, the intense typical smells of the old wood strike the visitor pleasantly. The house of God has the shape of a cross. At the intersection of the arms there is an octagonal intermediate roof dome; a design that is more common in the Päijänne Lake region and goes back to the cruciform type of the first Renaissance buildings in Finland from the mid-16th century. No, the high art of the French Gothic can be found here just as little as the luxuriant baroque of the Münsterland. But on closer inspection, the charm of the old church becomes clear: the pulpit, Initially made of raw wood, it was later decorated with carvings in naive art showing angels and saints. On the altar wall you can see Moses with the command panels and a thoughtful looking Luther, the Bible firmly in his arms.
The fact that the church is now considered a jewel of Finnish wooden architecture, has not been demolished and has not been left to sleep in a deep slumber, is due on the one hand to an Austrian, and on the other to the reflection of Finland, which has just been freed from foreign rule, of its own cultural heritage. The lack of money was – and thank God this time – that the old church as a pearl of historical church architecture was not extensively redesigned. What financial resources could be found was used to restore and maintain the original condition.