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The Hospitality of the Finns - according to Olaus Magnus (1555)


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By Sven Bjerstedt

Olaus Magnus (1490-1557) was a Swedish ecclesiastic and writer. His elder brother Johannes Magnus was Sweden’s last Catholic archbishop. On the success of the reformation in Sweden, they were both exiled. When Johannes died in 1544, Pope Paul III issued Olaus as his brother’s successor as Archbishop of Uppsala; admittedly nothing more than a title, as Sweden was not Catholic anymore and Olaus was banned.

He is best remembered as the author of the famous Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus (History of the Northern People), printed in Rome 1555, a patriotic work of folklore and history which long remained for the rest of Europe the authority on Swedish matters.

In this work, the eighteenth chapter of the The Hospitality of the Finns according to Olaus Magnus (1555)fourth book is of particular interest; it is called On the Conversion of Northern and Eastern Finland and on the Great Hospitality of the People:

“This, the farthest part of the Northern countries, like several adjacent countries, was caught in heathen superstition in olden days. Thus, by deviating from the way of truth, it showed its contempt for God and acted violently towards its neighbors. However, after the two beaming lights, the celebrated saints King Erik of Sweden and Archbishop Henrik of Upsala, about the year of the Lord 1155 through the word of the Lord and through their victorious weapons subordinated Finland to the Christian faith and the kingdom of Sweden, built churches and nominated priests, then the people changed and strived to attain many virtues, especially generosity and hospitality, which they exercise on arriving strangers with the utmost benevolence. In company they are friendly and meek; but if one long annoys them, their revenge will be so much the worse; the longer it has been postponed. They live in villages, divided among parishes and farms. They have magnificent churches and show great readiness to build new ones. They show their priests great affection and pay their tithes of everything. In return they receive, often by an interpreter, education in divine law to free them from their delusions and, since they have a noble spirit by nature, to ignite their mind to seek all good.”

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