Monday, July 28, 2008

Summer's only - the place to visit in Sodankylä!

There are several places to visit in Sodankylä, but there is one special place that you simply have to see if you visit here in the summer months.

Its the Old Church of Sodankylä ... and it is only open to the public during the summer months!

Now, we are talking about a really,really,old,old church.. built way back in 1689!!! It is one of the oldest preserved and renovated wooden churches in Lapland. Its so quaint! Set alongside the riverbank, with two church graveyards around much older than the other, these connect to the New Church of Sodankylä which was built in 1859 but was made of stone instead.

The lead photograph shows it prior to its renovations.. this picture below shows how it looks today.

Built solely of wood, Sodankylä's Vanha kirkko (Old church in Finnish) was THE main meeting place of the old time inhabitants of this region. They would travel to the church by boat, along the Kitinen river, hence the church being built where it is - for ease! It's got a delightful ambience and anyone that goes there, cannot fail to be enchanted by it. During the summer, it is naturally a much favoured location for weddings. There are no services as such, but the old wooden church is a special place to say a prayer or sit quietly.

I've been fortunate to witness a wedding there just over a year ago and its a beautiful place ... albeit VERY cold during a snowy Spring as it was then! It made me think of those old Sodankylän people and how much more of this cold weather they truly endured.. it's not like they could have got into a warm car after their service!

It really is a beautiful place to visit, full of character and has quite a large cemetery around it. There are actually mummified bodies of local priests and their families buried underneath the church floor too! Quite gruesome.. but there you go.. it's true! It adds to the mystique of the place! There would seem to be at least two distinct areas of ages in the cemetery and the much older ones really stick out, with their ornate graves. Today's choice for headstones are generally black engraved stones.. I guess so you don't walk into them during the deep white winter snows!

The size of the church is just 8.5m x 13.5m (28 ft x 44 ft) and the height of 8m (26 ft), so as you can tell, it's not huge! It's of horizontal log construction with block pillars that originate from medieval times, when communities were smaller. It underwent some modernisation in 1778 when a wooden shingle roof and wooden panel cladding was added. Then suddenly in 1859 the church was abandoned with the advent of the towns New Church... yet the now 'Old Church' remained in place untouched. It stayed that way, for some time too. Minor repairs took place during the 1920's, 1950s, 1970's, and mid 1980's by the National Board of Antiquities. In 1950's the roof was made of industrially sawn wooden shingles on bitumen felt. The bitumen felt however caused rotting of the shingles, and so later on, a new wooden shingle roof and new wood panel were installed. The restoration principles considered its authenticity and it kept its olde worlde charm!

All of this work was financed mainly by a state employment programme and was all done by hand, using traditional methods. This meant that the shingles were all carved by axe, the boards riven and even handmade nails were used! Can you imagine that! Lots of hard work.. but worth the effort! The rotten bitumen felt was replaced by Birch wood bark and natural wood tar (I love that smell!) was used to protect the wood. The total cost was around 2 million FinnMarks at the time, (approximately $500,000). Knowledge of choosing, seasoning, working on and treating the wood was gained during the building process and so assisted the local community further. It's great that they saved this church as it's such a beautiful place!

I am sharing some wedding photographs with you here, courtesy of my friends Riikka and Sami who were married there in 2007. It was a lovely day, sunny and bright with lots of snow still around.

Note in this picture:
Other than the entering beautiful Bride... the beautiful olde worlde door!
Trust me.. It was COLD that day..and Riikka REALLY was wise to have that lovely jacket!

The Old Church was also the subject of the significant late Sodankylän painter Andreas Alariesto, of whom I will write another time...

So, if you ever visit this area in the Summer.. you must come and see it.. it is open daily and its FREE to enter, with donations accepted by the attendants.

Further sites to look at for pictures, albeit in Finnish language: