more bells and churches

9 March 2009

When I visited Finland several years ago, a good part of our journey entailed touring and learning about Orthodox churches.  Many of them were adorned heavily with gilt finished paintings and the icons that are so central to their faith.  So different than the spare surrounds of the Presbyterian church I grew up in. 

As we were there over Easter time, we learned that one of the traditions in the Finnish Orthodox church is that the local population is welcomed into the church’s spire to ring the bells in celebration during Easter week.  As one could imagine, children love this tradition, and at Valamo Monastery and retreat where we happened to be staying on Easter Sunday, the retreat’s busiest weekend, the bells were ringing all day long. 

One of the churches I liked best is in a town called Ilomantsi.  This one, made of clapboard is much less ornate and busy than some of the others we had toured.  We were to meet Annelli, the wife of a local priest there, who eventually insisted that she take us back to their home for dinner.  We entered the church to find her conducting a solitary service in the singing chants that characterise the Orthodox service.  (Afterwards we learned that she is also ordained.)  We sat and listened, and l was quite taken with the dome that rose above us.  Instead of being painted with golden saints and angels, it housed windows, which opened up to the sky in a circle as if to welcome in God.  To me, this church combines the traditional orthodox with the Finnish perspective, in which nature is intrinsic to their sensibility.  After her service was over, Annelli showed us around the church and took us up to climb the spire where we rang the bells for Easter.

Church of Saint Prophet Elijah, Ilomantsi

The most beautiful church I have ever seen in my life is also in Finland, but nothing like any of the formal Orthodox places of worship we had seen on our trip.  This (non-denominational) church was built by the hands of celebrated artisan and sculptor Eva Ryynänen.  Eva’s church is integrated into the forested landscape around her homestead, and is a testament to all of nature’s gifts.

The structure’s A-frame has glass covering much of the front and back walls.  Logs make up the rest, as well as many of the building’s other features.  Hollowed out logs make rounded and more comfortable pews, and sliced logs sunk into concrete make a striking natural mosaic floor.  Carvings of flowers and animals adorn the inside walls, and a giant, upturned tree root is the altar. 

The guide tells us that many people make pilgrimages to this church, whether to elope or celebrate Christmas.  Sitting in there, I can see why.  And even though I’ve never been particularly religious, this place, to me, is the most divine celebration of the earth’s gifts I had ever seen, and I would have been happy to sit there and be thankful for hours.

I don’t remember if Eva’s church has a bell.  But the hand-hewn logs welcome your touch, and every corner of the church has something for the eyes to behold, and the smells and sounds of nature enhance your awareness of all things magical.

Pictures of Eva’s church.

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3 Responses to “more bells and churches”

  1. sartenada Says:

    It was nice to read that You have visited in Finland.


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