Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Porvoo Cathedral

Porvoo, Finland is near the southern coast, about 30 miles east of Helsinki. It dates from the 1300s, one of six medieval towns in Finland. Porvoo Cathedral, 
with origins dating back to the beginnings of the town, is now the seat of the Diocese of Borga (Borga is Porvoo in Swedish), Finland's Swedish-speaking diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (ELCF). It is not geographically based, but includes all Swedish speaking parishes in Finland, as well as a parish for German speakers. It is also a parish in the Diocese of Helsinki for Finnish-speaking members of the ELCF. 
The ELCF is one of two national churches of Finland and all members pay a tax of 1% to 2% to support it. In 2010, 78.2% of those in Finland belonged to the ELCF and only about 1.1% belonged to the Finnish Orthodox Church, the other national church. 
Finland, despite its relatively large area, has only 5.4 million people, mostly found in the southern part of the country (1 million in the greater Helsinki area). It was historically a part of Sweden during which time the national church was the Church of Sweden. The ELCF was created when Finland was declared an autonomous Grand Duchy in the Russian Empire in 1809, with Porvoo Cathedral being the site of the first Diet of Finland where the declaration was made. 
In 1917 Finland declared independence from Russia and a communist revolution was defeated with German support. Finland remained neutral during World War II despite an invasion by Stalin. Only about 2% of Finns attend church regularly. 
Most go to church only on special occasions, such as Christmas, weddings and funerals, the average being about two visits to church per year. A 2005 poll found that 41% of Finns believe in God, 41% believe in "some sort of spirit or life force" and 16% believe in no God, spirit or life force. Porvoo Cathedral has been destroyed or greatly damaged by fire on six occasions: once by Danish troops in 1508, three times by Russian troops in 1571, 1590, and 1708, (the 1500s were a rough century) and by arson in 2006 (which just destroyed the roof). 
The current style and appearance dates from a reconstruction in 1414-1418 (when it was changed from wood to stone walls). 
The interior has wall paintings from the end of the 1400s and it has a seating capacity for 750 people. When we visited there was a wedding going on inside and we could only get a view of the interior through a partially open door. 
One of the contrasts we enjoyed on our trip was that between Orthodox churches, which are highly decorated, and Lutheran churches, which are very simple. 


  1. Interesting that while only 2% of Finns attend church, 100% pay the tax. There does not seem to be a "church and state" issue. Perhaps the church is seen as an integral part of the culture rather than as a political force (as it is in the US).

  2. Very interesting! Did you get a chance to see the LDS temple in Helsinki

  3. We didn't have it on our radar, but even if we had, we had no free time that would have allowed us to. We did see the temple in Copenhagen.