Exhibition on the Northern Reformation

Category: Uncategorized (Page 2 of 2)

6. The City of Turku as the Centre of the Finnish Reformation

Turku was the second largest city in the kingdom of Sweden and the administrative and ecclesiastical capital of Finland. The city was founded during the 13th century, but the growth of the city dates only from the 1360s onwards, and the city reached its heyday later, in the 15th century.

During the Middle Ages, the Church was the single most prominent land owner in the city, owning an estimated circa 50 per cent of all land. There were approximately 30 religious buildings in Turku at the end of the Middle Ages. The Cathedral of Turku was the largest and most magnificent building in the city. With the Reformation, religious buildings were gradually taken from the Church and transformed for use in secular activities.

Turku before the Great Fire of 1827. By Carl Ludvig Engel – Digital collection of Finnish National Library. Wikimedia Commons.

The Cathedral was surrounded by a wall, with most of the important ecclesiastical edifices located next to it. The most impressive building must have been the Bishop’s Palace, built probably in 1429 by the Bishop Magnus Olai Tavast. According to archaeological evidence, it was a quite large building likely with many floors. During the Reformation, the King confiscated the Palace, and it was used for secular purposes. The Palace lapsed into disrepair in the 17th century. The house of the Cathedral Chapter, the Cathedral School, the house of the priests and the residence of the Cathedral Dean were also located in the vicinity of the Cathedral, and all were seized from the Church for secular usage or left to decay. All in all, the Reformation changed the cityscape of Turku by secularising it. Buildings that once represented the power of the Church were symbolically handed over to secular authorities.

Turku had very few Churches in the Middle Ages, but during the Reformation in the 1580s, two new church buildings were initiated. One church was built in the proximity of the Cathedral for the German-speaking inhabitants, and another for Finnish-speaking inhabitants was instituted on the other shore of the River Aura. However, this church was never completed and it was demolished during the 17th century. The church’s ruins were rediscovered during excavations in the 20th century, and today an ecumenical chapel has been built amongst the ruins underground, to be visited by tourists.

Turku was totally ravaged by the Great Fire of 1827, and therefore no medieval buildings other than the Cathedral are left. By Gustaf Wilhelm Finnberg. Wikimedia Commons.

The townscape of Turku thus changed in many ways during the Reformation, but more than religious ideas, fire altered the face of the city. The town was burnt partially at least twelve times during the 16th century. The last great fire happened in 1827, when three-quarters of the city were completely ravaged. After the fire, Turku was rebuilt, and the Castle and the Cathedral are the only medieval buildings remaining. However, the ruins of medieval Turku can be visited in the underground museum Aboa Vetus et Ars Nova.

Turku Cathedral seen from the outside. Today, a park and a plaza surround the Cathedral. Hanna Oksanen/ University of Turku








The Dominican Convent of Turku

The Dominican Order arrived in Finland at the beginning of the 13th century and founded monasteries in both Turku and Viipuri (Vyborg). The Dominicans had a great impact upon Finnish medieval ecclesiastical and political life. After the Reformation, the activity of the Order was soon run down. The convent in Turku was officially closed in 1536, and a great fire ravaged the convent the following year, destroying all the buildings. The brothers of the convent dispersed and became priests in the parishes. We know that the last Prior of the convent, Michael Michaelis, became the Vicar of Taivassalo, and that his son succeeded him in the position. The convent was quite soon forgotten in Turku, and by the 19th century, nobody remembered where the Convent had been situated.

5. The Church Undergoes Changes

The Reformation was not a very rapid process in Finland. Changes to the life of the Church were made gradually. Some changes were completed only decades or even centuries after the Reformation had started. Mental attitudes in particular likely changed very slowly.

The Finnish lay people probably first heard about the Reformation not in Finland, but in the Hanseatic cities of Tallinn or Gdansk, places they visited on a regular basis. They also had close contacts to other cities on the shores of the Baltic Sea. Both Gdansk and Tallinn were reformed as early as the early 1520s, and it is quite probable that Finnish people witnessed and maybe even participated in the reformatory uprisings in those cities.

Finnish people thus had already at least heard of the events of Reformation when it started officially in the Swedish realm in 1527. Even so, the Reformation did not alter the Finnish culture and society very quickly. The

Inside of the Cathedral of Turku. The Cathedral interior was greatly changed during the Reformation. The Church suffered badly in the 1827 Great Fire of Turku, and the interior was subsequently completely renewed. Janne Tunturi.

first visible change was the appropriation of the greater part of the Church’s valuable articles such as reliquaries, metal crosses and other items made of precious metals by the Crown. This reduced the splendour of the churches, thus probably affecting also the mental image of the Church.

The Crown also transferred two thirds of the Church’s income to itself. This affected the ability of the parishes to build new church buildings or even repair the existing ones. Virtually no new churches were built during the entire 16th century. Turku Cathedral was soon in such a very poor condition that the newly appointed Bishop of Turku, Isaacus Rothovius, complained in 1627 that even the roof of the Church was completely broken, and that it snowed inside the Church during winter.

The liturgy was altered following the principles of the Reformation. Vernacular language was used for the entire

A very well preserved medieval statue of Saint Anna, Madonna and Child, transformed into a Madonna and Child statue probably after the Reformation. CC BY 4.0, The National Museum of Finland

Mass. Rituals considered Catholic and prayers addressed to saints or to the Virgin Mary were gradually given up. Holy water, anointing oil and sanctified salt were no longer used. The side-altars were not supposed to be used anymore, but the change was very slow in this respect, too, as in the 17th century Bishop Rothovius had to take measures to eradicate the usage of the side-altars from his cathedral.

All in all, the first century after the Reformation seems to have been more a period of a slow decline. Only after 1627 did the Reformation start to create new structures for the Church. The church as a public space was now to manifest the Lutheran orthodox doctrine and the social hierarchy. New pews were made for the churches, strictly organised in a hierarchical order. Every person had their own place according to his or her social status. New pulpits were also made to emphasise the central role of the sermon in Lutheran liturgy.



Iconoclasm in Finland

Statue of Madonne and Child, with its nose cut off and Child removed. CC BY 4.0, The National Museum of Finland.

There is no written evidence of iconoclasm in Finland, and a comparatively high number of medieval statues of saints have been preserved. However, the statues were not left untouched. Instead, they were probably removed from the cabinets in which they were standing, and their aura of sanctity was thus lessened. Statues were also deprived of jewellery or crowns made of precious metals when the King took possession of the Church’s valuables.

There are some signs of possible iconoclasm, as the noses of many statues are broken, as if they had been cut off. In any case, the statues were modified, re-used or left to decay in the centuries following Reformation. When it comes to the painted fresco murals, they were largely left intact in the 16th century, but in some Churches they were subsequently covered much later, in the 18th and 19th centuries.


The relics of Turku Cathedral

After the Reformation, relics of saints lost their significance as holy objects and they were no longer venerated. There were, however, no clear directions concerning what should be done with the relics after the Reformation. In the Turku Cathedral, some of the relics

The stones from Gethsemane, one of the remaining relics from the Cathedral of Turku. Aki Arponen.

were kept in the back room of the sacristy, sheltered from the numerous fires that ravaged the Cathedral. The relics include a fragment of bone attributed to Saint Pancratius, stones from Gethsemane, and a skull and two forearm bones reputed to be relics of Saint Henry, the patron Saint of Finland. Thus, it seems that the relics were in some way seen as important even after the Reformation, despite no longer being venerated.

4. Creation of the Written Finnish Language

In Sweden and Finland, the vernacular was to be used in the Divine Service (Holy Communion) from 1537 onwards. Therefore, texts had to be translated into Finnish. There had been some liturgical texts in Finnish even before the Reformation, (such as the Ave Maria or the Lord’s Prayer), but the first preserved Finnish texts date from the Reformation period.

The largest of the surviving codices is named after Mathias West, the chaplain and school master of the city of Rauma, who copied the texts included from older sources. Apparently, the oldest of Finnish codices is a fragment of the Uppsala Book of Gospels, produced and intended for usage in Sweden. This might seem a little bit odd, but there is a very natural explanation for this, as there were a great number of Finnish speaking inhabitants in Sweden. In fact, the first parish to appoint a Finnish preacher was the Finnish-speaking congregation of Stockholm. Besides these two codices, there is a number of other surviving manuscripts.

The oldest printed books in Finnish are Mikael Agricola’s works. Agricola had some collaborators in his translation projects, so he did not work entirely alone. All the same, Agricola was a quite productive translator and writer. He first published his Abckiria, a short ABC book to help Finns learn to read, which also included a catechism, probably in 1543. The book was inspired by and contained translated parts from Luther’s, Melanchton’s and Andreas Osiandern’s Catechisms. The Ave Maria prayer was also part of the book, and shows thus that the change from Catholic to Protestant theology was not always very abrupt, and many Catholic customs survived for quite some time in Finland after the Reformation.

Agricola then published his Rucouskiria in 1544, a very large and comprehensive prayer book, and followed this four years later with his magnum opus, Se Wsi Testamentti, the Finnish translation of the New Testament. This

Mikael Agricola hands the New Testament translation to King Gustav Vasa. This meeting probably never really took place, but the picture illustrates well the new hierarchical order of the Church and the Crown after the Reformation. Robert Wilhelm Ekman, 1853. Wikimedia Commons.

was published in 1548 after many troubles in the financing of the expensive printing. Subsequently, Agricola published three liturgical books and translations of Psalms and of some prophetical books of the Old Testament.

Mikael Agricola and his contemporaries created the Finnish written language, which was a very demanding but important task for the future of Finland. As the language was used in the Mass and written down, it certainly affected the identity of the Finnish people. It gave to the language a position held until then by Latin and Swedish only. The language of the common people became important in its own right. Translating parts of the Bible and theological works into Finnish meant that wholly new ideas and concepts were introduced to the language. This in turn enabled the birth of theological, legal, philosophical and to some extent political debate in the language.

There were other benefits, too. As the written language was created, it also made possible the unification of the different Finnish dialects towards a standardised language. This might well have been a necessary prerequisite for the evolution of a shared national identity.



The first leaf of the Biblia, the Finnish translation of the entire Bible from 1642. Wikimedia Commons

The Finnish New Testament was published in 1548 by Mikael Agricola, but subsequently almost a hundred years passed before the entire Bible was published in Finnish. The “Biblia”, or the “whole Saint Bible in Finnish”, was published in 1642. A thanksgiving service was organised in Finland to commemorate this historical event. The Bible was dedicated to the Swedish Queen Christina, who somewhat ironically had converted to Catholicism only twelve years later. The Biblia was a very important step for the Finnish written language, creating what can be called a standard, unified language for Finland.







3. Mikael Agricola and Other Reformers of Finland

In Sweden and Finland, the reformation was a political manoeuver led by the King, but this is not the whole picture. Many members of the clergy had a considerable influence on the outcome of the northern Reformation. It was, after all, a matter of religion in the first place, and therefore theologians, priests and bishops were in a position to alter the religious decisions.

In Sweden, Olavus Petri had a significant role in the Reformation. He had studied theology in Wittenberg, and had heard Martin Luther’s ideas very early on. Returning to Sweden, he quickly became the leading figure in the Reformation of Sweden together with his brother Laurentius Petri. They organised the Church anew and translated texts into the vernacular following the example of Luther. Olavus Petri was also one of the very first priests to get married. As a matter of fact, he got married even some months before Luther himself, on the 12th of February 1525.

Many Finnish priests studied in at the University of Wittenberg and were active in the Reformation. The most well-known is Mikael Agricola, who has been named the Reformer of Finland. He was born circa 1510 in

Mikael Agricola. A 19th century engraving by Albert Edelfelt. Wikimedia Commons.

Pernaja, in the region of Uusimaa. He studied first in Viipuri (Vyborg) in eastern Finland, but then moved to Turku in 1528. Together with his childhood friend Martinus Teit, he went to Wittenberg in 1536 to study theology. Mikael Agricola very probably visited Martin Luther’s house as a student. He studied under Phillip Melanchthon, who was a more active teacher than Luther at the university at the time of Agricola’s stay, and Agricola refers to him as “his teacher”.

Agricola translated and wrote many books in Finnish, his magnum opus was the translation of the New Testament into Finnish. He had already begun the work in Wittenberg together with his friend Martinus Teit and Simon Henrici Wiburgensis, a Finnish priest, who later was appointed as a teacher at the University of Wittenberg. Mikael Agricola was the only Finnish reformer who managed to get his writings printed, and has therefore had a more lasting influence and has been better commemorated than the others.

Returning to Turku in 1539, Agricola was appointed as rector of the Cathedral School, and in 1544 he was consecrated as the Bishop of Turku, being the first Lutheran Bishop of Finland. He was married to Pirjo Olavintytär (‘Bridget, the daughter of Olavi’) and had one son, Christian, who ended up Bishop of Tallinn in 1584. Agricola died in 1557 during his return from Moscow as part of a royal delegation to negotiate a peace treaty.

2. The Reformation in Sweden and Finland

King Gustav Vasa. Jacob Binck. Wikimedia Commons.

Gustav Vasa, the newly elected king of Sweden, faced a serious problem, as his country was nothing short of bankruptcy. The King was acquainted with the new Protestant ideas criticising the Church of having too much worldly power and riches, and given his situation the King decided to lead his country towards Lutheranism. The decisive event was the calling of the Riksdag, the Swedish parliament, to the town of Västerås in 1527. The Riksdag ordered the bishops and Cathedral chapters to give an account of their property to the King, who then took over the lion’s share of the Church’s goods. Important ecclesiastical positions were filled with persons favourable to the Lutheran cause and the King was appointed as the head of the Church instead of the Pope.

After King Gustav I’s death in 1560, his son Erik XIV was crowned king, but he was soon dethroned because of mental instability. His brother John, married to the Polish Princess Catherine Jagiellon, was then crowned in 1568. Importantly, Catherine was a Catholic, and the now King John III had promised to raise their son Sigismund in the Catholic faith.

King John III was interested in the Catholic faith. This might be due to the fact that the country was still in a rather poor economic state, and the Pope might have helped him to get a share of his mother-in-law’s fabulous fortune. Queen Catherine had a considerable role in the negotiations and was the most prominent figure in the Counter-Reformation in Sweden. However, despite all their efforts, relations with the Holy Seat did not improve.

King John III: Johan Baptista van Uther. Swedish National Museum. Wikimedia Commons.

When King John III died in 1592, his Catholic son Sigismund inherited the Swedish crown. Sigismund, however, was already King of Poland-Lithuania, and bound to live there. As Sigismund was not able to respond rapidly to the changed situation in Sweden, his uncle, King John’s brother, Duke Charles took the initiative and summoned a meeting in Uppsala. There the Lutheran faith was confirmed as the religion of the Swedish realm. When Sigismund arrived in Sweden, he had to accept the decisions of the Uppsala meeting before his coronation. This meant that even though he was nominally the head of the Swedish Church, he could not appoint Catholics as archbishops and his powers as a monarch were also reduced in other respects.

Sigismund had to return to Poland-Lithuania, and while away, Duke Charles quickly became the de facto leader of Sweden and soon enough was in open war with King Sigismund. The enmities between Duke Charles and King Sigismund particularly affected Finland, as they caused revolts and a small scale civil war in the country. Nobles in Finland remained faithful to Sigismund until 1599, but Duke Charles eventually seized the entire kingdom and was crowned king. His coronation was the final seal making Sweden and Finland Lutheran countries.


The nobles in Finland had a practical attitude towards religion in the midst of the Reformation. Religion was not a matter of indifference to them, but the Reformation did have very practical consequences. For instance, when nunneries were closed, how was one to take care of the non-married women in the family? How did one ensure the family would get back the land donated to the Church during the Catholic period?
Some nobles in Finland might have been sympathetic to the Catholic cause, at least Klaus Eriksson Fleming, one of the highest officials in Sweden, supported the Catholic King Sigismund and endowed some Catholic priests. He even was favourable to the idea of separating Finland from Sweden and incorporating it into Poland-Lithuania. His death in 1597 put an end to these plans.


The Counter-Reformation in Finland

Queen Catherine Jagiellon was the central figure in the Counter-Reformation in Sweden and Finland. She had close contacts with Poland-Lithuania, from where the legate of the Pope co-ordinated the missio Suetica (‘Mission in Sweden’). The plan was to appoint Catholics to key positions in Sweden and to influence King John III, who was already sympathetic to Catholicism. Catherine also supported many Catholic priests and laymen, as well as the convents of Vadstena and Nådendal, and she also helped Jesuits who were sent to Sweden.

Finland was more sympathetic to Catholicism than Sweden, and many Catholic customs remained in usage among the lay people for many decades after the Reformation. For example, rosaries were still used in Finland as late as the 17th century as part of the Marian devotion.

1. Finland before the Reformation

Welcome to this roll-up exhibition about the Reformation in Finland! Finland is today a country where the majority of people are Lutherans. During the Reformation period, however, it was not clear whether Finland would become Lutheran or not – there were even times when Finland might have returned to Catholicism. To understand the Finnish Reformation, we must start our journey in the Middle Ages, when Finland was Catholic and part of the Swedish realm.


Finland – a country between east and west

Christianisation in Finland happened gradually, first through commerce and cultural contacts and then probably by individual missionaries. The Church established a parish structure in Western Finland in the middle of the 12th century, and at the same time Finland was annexed to the Swedish kingdom.

Engraving showing the first crusade to Finland, during which the Finns were supposedly converted to Christianity. Wikimedia Commons.

The area of Finland was disputed between Sweden and Novgorod, (an early Russian city state), and between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. During the Middle Ages, Finland became an integral part of Sweden and Catholicism became the predominant religion. In the Eastern parts of Finland, however, the Eastern Orthodox Church retained its dominant position, and the Orthodox Church has still an official position in Finland.

Turku was the political and ecclesiastical capital of Finland, with the episcopal see and the cathedral chapter residing there. It was the second largest city in the Swedish realm by the end of the Middle Ages, and had tight economic connections to the Hanseatic towns in the Baltic Sea region.


The Kalmar Union

A ship flag from of the Kalmar Union period with the coats of arms of Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Pomerania. Illustration by Julius Magnus Petersen, 1882. Wikimedia Commons.

From 1397, Sweden was a part of the Kalmar Union, which united under a common monarch the kingdoms of Sweden, Denmark and Norway. However, the Union was in an almost constant state of turmoil from the death of Queen Margaret I in 1412, because Sweden and Denmark had different interests in international politics. In Sweden, there were many rebellions against the Danish-led alliance during the 15th century. In 1520 the King of Denmark, Christian III, finally reconquered Stockholm, the capital of Sweden. During his coronation ceremonies, he executed many Swedish nobles in an event known as the Stockholm bloodbath.

This resulted in yet another rebellion against the Danes, led by the young noble Gustav Vasa. He managed to

The triumphant Gustav Vasa enters Stockholm in 1523. Painting by Johan Gustaf Sandberg. Wikimedia Commons.

beat Denmark, release Sweden from the Kalmar Union and secure the Swedish crown for himself by 1523. Even as a crowned king the situation was all but easy for Gustav Vasa. He had used immense amounts of money in the war, and the state was in heavy debt to the Hanseatic city of Lubeck. In addition, Vasa was not the only one interested in the Swedish crown, and he had many rivals in the Swedish aristocracy. In this situation, the wealthy Catholic Church with its powerful bishops seemed to be a serious threat to Gustav Vasa.

The Reformation in Finland. From Cultural Roots towards a Common Future.

Welcome to this exhibition about the Reformation in Finland! It is a part of the World Reformation Exhibition in Wittenberg where it is presented as a roll-up exhibition. The exhibition is also part of the Reformaatio 2017 – Reformation in Turku project.

The exhibition was created by the Turku Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies, University of Turku, Finland.

The exhibition was generously funded by the City of Turku and the Turku and Kaarina Parish Union.


Herzlich willkommen in dieser Roll-Up-Ausstellung zur Reformation in Finnland! Die Austellung ist Teil der Weltausstellung Reformation in Wittenberg, wo sie als Roll-up-Ausstellung präsentiert wird. Die Ausstellung ist auch Teil des Projekts Reformationsjubiläum 2017 in Turku.
Die Ausstellung wurde vom Turku Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies (Zentrum für mittelalterliche und frühneuzeitliche Studien), Universität Turku, Finnland, erstellt.
Die Ausstellung wurde großzügig von der Stadt Turku und von der Gemeindeunion Turku-Kaarina finanziert.​


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