Petäjävesi Old Church
Petäjävesi Old Church
Cultural Finland Europe And North America Petäjävesi, Region Of Central Finland, Province Of Western Finland

The Petäjävesi Evangelical Lutheran Old Church is a building of considerable global importance as an example of northern timber church architecture. The church is uniquely representative of log construction in the northern coniferous area and of the skills of the peasant population. European architectural trends have influenced the external form and the ground plan of the church, but they have been applied masterfully to traditional log construction. The church combines the layout of a Renaissance central church conception and older forms derived from Gothic groined ceilings. It reflects in an impressive way the architectural beauty of a northern rural Protestant church.

The church is situated on a peninsula where Lakes Jamsa and Petäjävesi meet. The location was determined by the fact that the congregation would be able to reach it by boat or over the ice in the winter. At the present time there is no settlement in the immediate vicinity of the church, since the town of Petäjävesi has developed about 1 km away.

Petäjävesi Old Church was designed and built in 1763-64 by a peasant master-builder, and in 1821 his grandson added the bell tower at the west end. Since a new church was built on the other side of the strait in 1879, the Old Church went out of use and was not maintained for many years, only the bell tower and cemetery being used for their original purpose. Repairs began in the 1920s when an Austrian art historian drew attention to its historical and architectural value.

The ground plan of the church is cruciform, the arms being virtually the same size. This form of church developed first in towns in the later 17th century, and only later spread into the countryside. The model was probably the stone church built in Stockholm in 1656 in a style derived from Italian architecture. The bell tower at the west end of the church is connected to it by a narrow corridor;the vestry is similarly linked with the eastern arm. The main structure is of horizontal log (Blockbau) construction, in the tradition to be found further to the east. The walls were not originally clad with planks, as at the present time. The four arms are covered by high, slightly angular vaults made from reddish pine planks, and there is an octagonal dome at the crossing. The circular design at the top of the dome derives from the classical opaion as interpreted in Renaissance architecture. The masking slats, base and tie-beams of the vaults are decorated in red ochre. The interior largely preserves its original form, as developed during the century (1764-1879) when it was in liturgical use. The distinctive features are the pulpit, pews, balustraded galleries and chandeliers, the elaborate carving of which is entirely the work of local craftsmen and artists.

The exterior is characterized by the steeply pitched roof, reminiscent of Gothic architecture. One of the doorways and the window of the choir have preserved their original triple arches. The lowest tier of the bell tower is in Blockbau construction, the walls and lantern being timber-framed with clapboard cladding. The bell trestle is supported on a sturdy log frame. Unlike the rest of the church, the bell tower is painted a different colour. The church is situated within a graveyard surrounded by a stone wall.

The period of neglect between 1879 and the 1920s was a blessing in disguise. When restoration began the historical importance of the building had been recognized and so interventions for restoration and conservation were kept to a minimum and used traditional techniques and materials. As a result the level of authenticity is exceptionally high.