The influence of Christianity strengthened in Finland in the 11th century when Orthodoxy expanded from the East and Catholicism from the West.
Initially the region of North Karelia was Orthodox, although towards the end of the 17th century the number of Lutherans started to increase. However, after World War II the image of North Karelia as an Orthodox area strengthened. Orthodox churches and prayer houses (tsasounas) were rebuilt according to the reconstruction plan of the Orthodox Church. The typical architectural features from different decades in the region can be distinguished clearly. Architectural standardized solutions similar to Lutheran churches were in fashion after the war. The churches of the 1970's were built of logs in the traditional Karelian style, whereas in the 1990's Byzantine style was adopted. You can have a look at churches in Joensuu and Ilomantsi as well as in Lieksa, Polvijärvi, Kitee, Nurmes and Valtimo. In the 1960's the tradition of celebrating Orthodox festivals was restored in Ilomantsi, the oldest Orthodox congregation in Finland.
The village of Hattuvaara, Ilomantsi has the oldest prayer house (tsasouna) built in the years 1796-1844 and it is still used. It was consecrated to the memory of Apostles Peter and Paul. The architecture of our time is represented in the prayer house (tsasouna) in Honkavaara, Pyhäselkä,
built in 2001. The log frame was rough hewn out of the large trunks of Siberian pines.
Places to See:
The Orthodox Cultural Center in Joensuu
The permanent display presents Orthodox sacral objects and tells us about the ecclesiastical year. The exhibition of Pentti Oksanen`s paintings depicts Finnish Orthodox churches. The center also houses the restaurant Elias, the Orthodox tourist agency Luostarimatkat (Monastery Tours), the Society of the Karelian language and several Orthodox organizations.
Joensuu Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas
The church was designed by architect G.F.Karpov in 1887. The main icon of the church – the Crucifixion – was delivered here in 1920 from St Petersburg and the heart of every church – the iconostasis – was created in the Alexander Nevsky Lavra in St Petersburg.
Ilomantsi Orthodox Church of St. Iliah
The church was constructed in 1891 and it was designed by architect Dmitrif Sadonikov. The Orthodox churches in Ilomantsi were consecrated to Prophet Iliah, so icons with his image can be seen on their walls and their iconostases. The festival in memory of Prophet Iliah is celebrated every year on July 19th.
Wilderness Burial Ground in Öllölä, Tuupovaara
The Pörtsämö cemetery is an example of an old Orthodox cemetery. The famous folk rune singer Pedri Shemeikka from Ladogan Karelia was buried there. Every year people gather at his grave in Öllölä
. There are also other ancient cemeteries in Ilomantsi, for example, Kokonniemi in the vicinity of the Church of Prophet Iliah.
Amateur exhibition Käspaikka in Joensuu
There is a cozy amateur exhibition at Niinivaara, Joensuu, where you can have a look at icons painted by Mrs Airi Läylönen and her silk-embroidery as well as icons and handicrafts by Mr Esko Läylönen, and a rich collection of Slavonic handicrafts.
After the Stolbova Peace Treaty signed in 1617, North Karelia was annexed to Sweden. As early as the 1630s Lutheran parishes were founded in Liperi and Kitee. Many of them were later split up due to the fast growth in the number of Lutheran church members. At the end of the 17th century Lutheran parishes of Lieksa, Tohmajärvi, Ilomantsi and Oravilahti (Rääkkylä) also existed. With the founding of new parishes wooden churches were built, which was natural due to the abundance of nearby forests and the skills of carpenters. Besides Tohmajärvi and Kiihtelysvaara, there are wooden churches in Ilomantsi, Eno, Rääkkylä, Juuka and Valtimo.
The oldest church existing now is situated in Tohmajärvi. The church consecrated in 1756 was constructed by Eskil Collenius from Sortavala. Due to the traditions of that time, priests and their families were buried under the floor of the church.
The second oldest church is situated in Kiihtelysvaara. Built in 1769-1770, it is said to be “the most beautiful wooden church in Finland”. There are tombs under the floor there as well.
There are old wooden churches in Juuka, Ilomantsi, Eno, Polvijärvi and Kontiolahti as well. The only church in Finland built of vertical logs in 1895 can be seen in Utra, Joensuu.
The first brick church in North Karelia was built in Liperi in 1858. Other stone churches can be seen in Kitee, Kesälahti, Joensuu, Nurmes, Outokumpu, Pyhäselkä and Värtsilä. Several wooden churches were destroyed by fires in both Ilomantsi and Lieksa. For instance, in August 1828 a flash of lightning struck the church in Lieksa and the fire burnt down both the church and the bell tower. In 1979 the fire destroyed the next church designed by architect Engel in 1838. The new stone church built in 1982 was designed by architects Raili and Reima Pietilä. They managed to combine the atmosphere of the old church with modern architecture. Even in church architecture the trends of each period of time can be distinguished. Today the needs of the congregation are taken into consideration in church architecture, the newest church like that being situated in Noljakka (1997), Joensuu.
The most popular place to visit in Lieksa is the atelier home of Eva Ryynänen (1915-2001) and her largest project, unique Paateri church completed in the summer of 1991. Practically all her works were made out of large pine trunks. She had the motifs for most of her some 500 sculptures from animals, children and the daily chores of country people. Also, she created several church sculptures about angels and Virgin Mary.