Wall paintings in Paltaniemi church

19.4.2018

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Paltaniemi is a tiny village in Northern Finland at the shore of lake Oulujärvi, just a bit north of Kajaani airport. The main sight is a wooden 18th century church. As there is no heating it can only be visited in the summer. Summertime attractions in Paltaniemi also include a small marina and beach as well as the Eino Leino house (Sutelantie 28), a reconstruction of the farmhouse where the poet Eino Leino/Lönnbohm was born in 1878. The Lönnbohm house was briefly owned in the 1830s by Elias Lönnrot, the district doctor who in his spare time put together the Kalevala. The reconstructed house is a few kilometres removed from the Hövelö farm where the Lönnbohm family actually lived.

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But the Paltaniemi church (Paltaniementie 851) is the real thing and its wall paintings worth the visit. The biblical scenes were probably created by Emanuel Granberg in 1778-1781.

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The Sámi people living in the Kainuu region were pushed towards north in in the 1500s when Savonian people extended their hunting trips and fire-fallow cultivation to the wilderness beyond lake Oulujärvi. In 1550 king Gustav Vasa promised a three-year exemption of taxes to settlers in the area with the idea to strengthen the Swedish presence in the frontier area also coveted by Russia. Some 140 families moved to the region and in 1569 up to 16 tax-paying farmers were registered in Paltaniemi. Some ten years later the farmhouses were burnt down by Russian raiders, as was the church built on the Manamansalo island.

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A second church was built in Paltaniemi in 1599. Paltaniemi became the administrative centre of the district. The new church collapsed in an earthquake in 1626. The quake is considered the most devastating in Finland, precisely because it destroyed a public building - the Paltaniemi church built on a sand bank.

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A third church was built in 1665 and destroyed by Russian raiders in 1716. In 1726 an fourth church -  the one still standing - was built, this time further inland to avoid any damage from the bank caving in. The old cemetery (at the end of Pappilanniementie) was abandoned and is now a forest park. Just a few decades ago human bones were unearthed from the crumbling sand bank.

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The bell tower built in 1769 holds the bell of the first mainland church, cast in 1622.

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The church interior was finished in 1734.

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The last supper scene was painted by Margareta Capsia in 1727. She was the first woman in Finland to have pursued a career as a professional painter; her earnings equalled those of her priest husband.

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The Paltaniemi church is decorated with colourful wall paintings depicting biblical scenes.
Some of the scenes suggest that Emanuel Granberg may have been a country cousin to Hieronymus Bosch.

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The scary Last Judgment is placed above the main entrance.

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"Those who follow me will never walk in darkness", promises the eagle.

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Another sight in Paltaniemi is the Emperor’s Stable (Keisarintalli) behind the church, commemorating the visit of Czar Alexander I in the region in 1819. On his way from Iisalmi to Kajaani, the Czar stopped for refreshments at a pre-selected farm. As the modest chimney-less house with its smoke-stained walls was considered inappropriate for the purpose, the stable was cleaned and decorated with fresh birch branches. In 1826 the stable was moved to its current location where it became the oldest local museum in the country.

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Having experienced the sad state of the roads in the region the Czar ordered a proper highway to be built between Iisalmi and Kajaani. With the rise of Kajaani as a centre for industry, business and education, Paltaniemi was left to wither.

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Literature:

Pekkala H. Paltaniementie. Selvitys historiallisesta arvosta. Mobilia 2011.