Petäjävesi Old Church

A World Heritage Site and more – “The Petäjävesi Old Church is part of my roots and my story”

The Petäjävesi Old Church embodies centuries of history. Walking through the churchyard, your eye is drawn to the wood-carved masterpiece even as the happy sounds of sheep in their pen echo in your ears. The building’s timber walls and shingle roof enclose a wealth of precision-carved artistic details and architectural ingenuities. In its four centuries of existence, passed from one generation to the next, its ancient walls have become imbued with the inhabitants’ happiest days and their deepest sorrows.

The Petäjävesi Old Church World Heritage Site includes the church itself, the church’s farm, the graveyard, and the Lemettilä Farm. Hanna Hautamäki, the current operator of Lemettilä Farm, has always lived in the shadow of the church. Locate right next door to the churchyard, the Lemettilä Farm has been inhabited since the 17th century, and the Old Church was built on a plot carved from the farm’s lands. Hautamäki spent her childhood and youth living on the farm at the foot of the church, and in adulthood she took over the company now running the farm. In 1994, Hautamäki was married in the Old Church, and this summer, their daughter Sara Hautamäki keeps up the family tradition with her own wedding in the church.

It’s nice to be able to keep up this tradition, as before me the family hadn’t celebrated a wedding in the Old Church for a very long time. You see, the wedding is usually in the bride’s home parish, and the previous generations have been very male-dominated. My father is an only child, and my grandfather was one of five brothers, all of whom took spouses from other localities.

Hanna Hautamäki

Two people kiss in front of the Petäjävesi Old Church
Photo: Anne Kalliola

It was a sunny and warm day when we were wed. 200 guests were invited, and there was plenty of space for us in the church. It didn’t all go without a hitch – for example, the priest had forgotten to bring their marriage vestments and had to conduct the ceremony in funeral dress, she says. 

Hanna Hautamäki

Sara, who today lives in Rovaniemi, remembers seeing the church from her bedroom window as a child and going on runs on footpaths that circle the church. Although the church has been part of her everyday life, she is now appreciative of its long history. 

Maybe it is easier to live farther away if you try to preserve history and tradition and look after it. Everyone is part of something in so many ways, and I feel the church is yet another aspect of my own roots and my story.

Sara Hautamäki

Art from inside the Petäjävesi Old Church, photographed from the inside
Photo: Tero Takalo-Eskola

The church was built by Central Finland peasants beginning in 1763 and was completed in 1765. The summer’s celebration will also honour the locally built masterpiece and its history.

We are planning to arrive to the wedding in a wagon pulled by a Finnhorse, and the wedding will have other kinds of rustic aspects. Just as authentic as the church itself. Since the church has always been there for me, it seems more or less obvious for me to get married there.

Sara Hautamäki

The social media of its time is a centuries-long history of life’s progress

In 1994, the Petäjävesi Old Church was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as a unique example of the long tradition of Nordic wooden church architecture and timber construction. The graveyard, also part of the World Heritage Site, is a reminder of the cycle of Finnish countryside life as it has been. The church is preserved nearly in its original condition, which is of interest to many visitors. Its location in the middle of the woods is also a source of wonder for tourists. The church was the social hub of its day, where the services also allowed people to meet their friends and hear the latest news. 

With visitors, we often discuss the things the church’s timbers may have seen over the centuries, and all the emotions experienced there. In this church, people have grown up, gotten married, and been buried. In the winter, dead bodies were kept under the floorboards, which allowed even recently late family to participate in the ceremonies. With international visitors, we discuss the ways of Finnish Christianity, or maybe why there are hymn numbers hung up above the sacristan’s seat

Project manager Katriina Holm

A church boat rowing on water in front of the Petäjävesi Old Church
Photo: Anne Kalliola

In the summer, the church doors are open, pandemic restrictions notwithstanding. A variety of guided tours are available for visitors to learn about the church. Concerts will also be held in the church in summertime if restrictions permit. This year, it will also be possible to get to know the church and other UNESCO destinations in the Jyväskylä Region with the help of a digital guide. The digital guide is a product of the World Heritage Centre planned to open in Petäjävesi in the summer of 2023. The Centre will be a hub for two World Heritage Site destinations in the Jyväskylä Region, the Old Church site and the Oravivuori triangulation point on the Struve Geodetic Arc at Korpilahti.

This summer, our World Heritage route app will allow you access to digital guidance at 27 different points between the church and the triangulation point, some at the graveyard and the churchyard. The route will also familiarise the traveller with the surroundings of the Oravivuori triangulation point. The Struve Arc has an interesting background. The destinations cover some of the same historical terrain, even though they offer quite different points of view on the events. A friend of World Heritage Sites should definitely visit both destinations and experience just what is worth preserving in each of them.

Katriina Holm

Lemettilä Farm has also spent some time thinking about what makes the Old Church so unique. Ultimately, however, the answer is simple.

 These are the same walls as were here in the 18th century. When you close your eyes and block distractions out of your mind, you can really sense what life was like in those days. 

Hanna Hautamäki