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I recently read about some church customs in Finland in the 1700's which seem rather strange in today's world. At that time everyone was required to attend the parish church, from the wealthiest person to the poorest, including husbands, wives, children, servants, farm hands, tenant farmers, soldiers, etc. Strict protocol was observed in seating arrangements. Following is an excerpt concerning Karleby church, and it's my understanding other churches in Österbotten followed similar practices:

In Karleby church, as well as in other churches, the pews/benches were placed according to the principle that the more dignified a man was, the closer to the chancel he should sit. The seating was determined by marital status with the married before the unmarried, and the pastor's domestic servants were more entitled than the servants and farm hands of the common people. Dependent tenants had to be content to sit on benches at the farthest end of the church and the young people sat up in the gallery.

There were no noble families among the Karleby landed proprietors to take precedence. In 1747 the first row of men's pews was granted to distinguished guests and the second row to officers and foreigners. On the women's side the pastor's wife sat in the first row and the chaplain's wife in the second pew. The pastor's housekeeper shared the third pew with wives of the constable, parish scribe and of Corporal Lars Friis. The constable sat with the parish scribe on the little bench near the pastor's door.

Behind the officers in the third row sat the farmers with Jacob Qvikant in the best spot. The 13th row was free and the 18th and 19th were left for soldiers. The soldier's wives sat in the 22nd row and in the fourth row of the women's gallery.

Parish clerk Matts Rasmus' wife had a place in the 9th row and the bridge marshall Jacob Korp's wife sat in the 17th row. The blacksmith Johan sat nearest the railing of the large gallery together with the bridge bailiff Anders and marksman Lars.

On the women's side of the gallery, the pastor's maid servants had the best places. Behind them sat the young wives and behind the soldier's wives sat unmarried women and maidens. Young, unmarried farm hands who had received Holy Communion, sat in a little gallery in the choir. Under the gallery on the benches nearest the road sat the pastor's farm hands, while other farmers sat on the front benches.

With good intentions, it had been arranged that the old and stable people would sit by themselves and that the youth would be separated from their elders. But the effect was not what was wanted. In 1784 at a parish meeting they undertook a change in placement to deter the youth from irritating others with mischief and making noise in the church (so what else is new!). They decided that the benches down in the church and in the gallery should be divided among the farms since certain pews were reserved for the oldest farmers and nursing mothers. Thereafter the young and old from the same farm sat together.

Some of the old folks would yield to inattention and be half asleep where they sat. If this happened, the wakener came with his long cane and thrust it at the sleeper. This practice was stopped some time before 1826.

My father had some interesting comments to make about his maternal and paternal grandfathers and their church duties. His father died when he was 6 so he grew up spending his summers with his Pelo grandfather in Nedervetil parish, and in the winter months he lived with his mother and her parents at Storby in Karleby parish. His grandfather Anders Mattsson Pelo had to sit behind the organ in the church and pump the bellows with his feet so the organist could play the organ. When someone in the parish died, he had to go to the church and toll the bell. If a male died, he had to ring the bell one way and if the person was a female, he rang it another way. I can't remember if there was also a special way to announce the death of a child.

My father's maternal grandfather Erik Eriksson Lågland was a kyrkovärden (church warden) in Karleby parish church following the tradition of his forefathers. They were considered men of trust who collected money and were held accountable for it, in addition to taking care of wafers and the communion wine. My father remembered that his grandfather Erik was puzzled about the communion wine which kept disappearing from the wine cabinet. So he watched it and noticed the parish pastor taking a nip now and then. Erik bought a lock and kept the wine cabinet locked. Neither he nor the pastor spoke of it, and there were no further problems with the wine.

How proud Erik Lågland must have been when his grandson Anders Thure was confirmed in that same Karleby church in 1907. Two years later Anders (my father) and his mother left Finland for America - never to return - and Erik died four years later. My father said he could not get a passport until he was confirmed, and he had to have a statement from the pastor that he was confirmed. This practice was followed in other parishes because I have seen similar statements held by friends and relatives.



Excerpt from KARLEBY SOCKENS HISTORIA I By June Pelo


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