Finlandia – August 25

Text from the Sami Museum, Inari, Lapland


We walked out to a so-called ‘Wilerness Church’ today.

It’s a walk of 4.5 kilometres through forests and across marshland areas (boardwalks provided) and for most of the way over rocks large and small. In summers it’s a popular tourist attraction and I can imagine the trail being quite busy. Late August and there were relatively few people.

Given the rocky nature of the trail, it took us about an hour and half to reach it. Most people drive out to the trail head, but we walked from our accomodation out there, which added another hour to our journey. 

The ‘Wilderness Church’ – a pine wood contruction – was built early in  20th century to provide spiritual sustenance to the indigineous Sami people who lived and fished and hunted in those areas then.

As if the Sami never had a religion of their own.

Like other indigineous people elsewhere in the world, their way of life was intmately involved – and dependent upon – nature. Hence their spiritual beliefs revolved around stories featuring animal deities and their shamans or noaidi provided them with a bridge between the human and the natural world. 

A prayer drum was an important instrument used by the shaman to acces the spiritual existence and provide the basis for advice, warnings and prophesies.

The Sami shamanist religion came under attack during the 17th Century when Finland was a province of Sweden and the Swedish King – a Lutheran – regarded the Sami religion as a threat to Swedish power on the one hand and the work of Satan on the other. 

The Sami were put under pressure to adopt Christianity; the shamans were imprisoned and in some cases executed. The Lutheran missionaries destroyed the prayer drums so that eventually, very few remained in existence. 

The Wilderness Church must have involved a lot of work, probably provided by the Sami themselves. Near the church was a small house for the pastor. Even today, with an established walking trail, the church is in an isolated place. 

Walking around its empty precincts, it was hard to imagine that once, it was full – of Sami souls desperate to be saved from themselves, to escape the paralysing feelings of inferiority imposed on them by the very same religion claiming to save their souls.  

Some kind of Salvation. 






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