Middle Ages

History of Finland between 1150 - 1526

Contact between Sweden and what is now Finland was considerable even during pre-Christian times – the Vikings were known to Finns both due to their participation in commerce and plundering. There is commonly accepted evidence of Viking settlement in the Finnish mainland. The Åland Islands probably had Swedish settlement during the Viking Period. However, some scholars claim that the archipelago was deserted during the 11th century. According to the archaeological finds, Christianity gained a foothold in Finland during the 11th century. According to the very few written documents that have survived, the church in Finland was still in its early development in the 12th century. Later medieval legends describe Swedish attempts to conquer and Christianize Finland sometime in the mid-1150s. In the early 13th century, Bishop Thomas became the first bishop of Finland. There were several secular powers, Sweden, Denmark, the Republic of Novgorod in Northwestern Russia and probably the German crusading orders, who aimed to bring the Finns under their rule. Finns had their own chiefs, but most probably no central authority. Russian chronicles indicate there were conflict between Novgorod and the Finnic tribes from the 11th or 12th century to the early 13th century.

The name "Finland" originally signified only the southwestern province that has been known as "Finland Proper" since the 18th century. Österland (lit. Eastern Land) was the original name for the Swedish realm's eastern part, but already in the 15th century Finland began to be used synonymously with Österland. It was the Swedish regent, Birger Jarl, who established Swedish rule in Finland through the Second Swedish Crusade, most often dated to 1249, which was aimed at Tavastians who had stopped being Christian again. Novgorod gained control in Karelia, the region inhabited by speakers of Eastern Finnish dialects. Sweden however gained the control of Western Karelia with the Third Finnish Crusade in 1293. Western Karelians were from then on viewed as part of the western cultural sphere, while eastern Karelians turned culturally to Russia and Orthodoxy. While eastern Karelians remain linguistically and ethnically closely related to the Finns, they are considered a people of their own by most. Thus, the northern border between Catholic and Orthodox Christendom came to lie at the eastern border of what would become Finland with the Treaty of Nöteborg in 1323.

During the 13th century, Finland was integrated into medieval European civilization. The Dominican order arrived in Finland around 1249 and came to exercise huge influence there. In the early 14th century, the first documents of Finnish students at Sorbonne appear. In the south-western part of the country, an urban settlement evolved in Turku. Turku was one of the biggest towns in the Kingdom of Sweden, and its population included German merchants and craftsmen. Otherwise the degree of urbanization was very low in medieval Finland. Southern Finland and the long coastal zone of the Bothnian Gulf had a sparse farming settlement, organized as parishes and castellanies. In the other parts of the country a small population of Sami hunters, fishermen and small-scale farmers lived. These were exploited by the Finnish and Karelian tax collectors. During the 12th and 13th centuries, great numbers of Swedish settlers moved to the southern and north-western coasts of Finland, to the Åland Islands and to the archipelago between Turku and the Åland Islands: in these regions, the Swedish language is widely spoken even today. Swedish came to be the language of the high-status people in many other parts of Finland as well.

During the 13th century, the bishopric of Turku was established. The cathedral of Turku was the center of the cult of Saint Henry, and naturally the cultural center of the bishopric. The bishop had the ecclesiastical authority over much of today's Finland and was usually the most powerful man there. Bishops were often Finns, whereas the commanders in the castles were more often Scandinavian or German noblemen. In 1362, representatives from Finland were called to participate in the elections for king of Sweden. That year is often held to signify the incorporation of Finland into the kingdom of Sweden. As in the Scandinavian part of the kingdom, a gentry or (lower) nobility consisted of magnates and yeomen who could afford armament for a man and a horse. These were concentrated in the southern part of Finland.

The strong fortress of Viborg guarded the eastern border of Finland. Sweden and Novgorod signed the Treaty of Nöteborg in 1323, but that would not last long. For example, in 1348 the Swedish king Magnus Eriksson staged a failed crusade against the Orthodox "heretics", managing only to alienate his supporters and finally losing his crown. The bones of contention between Sweden and Novgorod were the northern coast-line of the Bothnian Gulf and the wilderness regions of Savo in Eastern Finlandied Novgorod considered these as hunting and fishing grounds of its Karelian subjects, protesting against the slow infiltration of Catholic settlers from the West. Occasional raids and clashes between Swedes and Novgorodians occurred during the late 14th and 15th centuries, but for most of the time an uneasy peace prevailed. There existed internal tensions as well. During the 1380s a civil war in the Scandinavian part of Sweden brought unrest to Finland, too. The victor of this struggle was Queen Margaret I of Denmark, who brought the three Scandinavian kingdoms of Sweden, Denmark and Norway under her rule (the "Kalmar Union") in 1389. The next 130 years or so were characterized by attempts of different Swedish factions to break out of the Union. Finland was sometimes involved in these struggles, but in general the 15th century seems to have been a relatively prosperous time, characterized by population growth and economic development. Towards the end of the 20th century, however, the situation on the eastern border was becoming more tense. The Principality of Moscow conquered Novgorod, preparing the way for a unified Russia, and soon tensions arose with Sweden. In 1495–1497, a war between Sweden and Russia was fought. The fortress-town of Viborg stood against a Russian siege: according to a contemporary legend, it was saved by a miracle.

References: Wikipedia

Popular sites founded between 1150 and 1526 in Finland

The Church of St. Lawrence

The Church of St. Lawrence dates back to ca. 1450 and is the oldest building in Vantaa and all of Greater Helsinki. Along with its surrounding neighborhood, the church is a part of the Helsingin pitäjän kirkonkylä district, which is one of the best preserved historical parishes in all of Finland. The Church of St. Lawrence was partially destroyed in a fire on 7 May 1893, after which it was reconstructed in a Gothic Re ...
Founded: 1450 | Location: Vantaa, Finland

Turku Cathedral

Turku Cathedral is the Mother Church of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, and the country's national shrine. It is the central church of the Archdiocese of Turku and the seat of the Archbishop of Finland. It is also regarded as one of the major records of Finnish architectural history.The cathedral was originally built out of wood in the late 13th century, and was dedicated as the main cathedral of Finland in 13 ...
Founded: 1400-1410 | Location: Turku, Finland

Kirkkonummi Church

The medieval Kirkkonummi brick church was built in the 15th century. The local parish was established in 1240 and there have been several wooden churches at the same site before. The present church has been renovated and modified several times. In 1570s Russian soldiers damaged church and it was burnt by lightning. Next renovations were made in 1637 and again in the 19th century.
Founded: 1400-1490 | Location: Kirkkonummi, Finland

Turku Castle

Turku castle is a national monument and one the most remarkable medieval castles in Finland. It's also one of the largest existing castles in Scandinavia. A history of Turku castle begins from the year 1280. The Swedish conquerors of Finland intended it originally as a military fortress.During 15th and 16th centuries its defences were strengthened and living quarters were added. The castle served as a bastion and administ ...
Founded: 1280 | Location: Turku, Finland

Espoo Cathedral

The Espoo Cathedral is a medieval stone church built in the last half of 15th century. The church is thus the oldest preserved building in the city. The church was originally designed in by an unknown "Espoo master" and built between 1485 and 1490 under his supervision. The only remaining parts of the medieval church are the eastern and western parts of the nave. The weapons room was removed between 1804 and 1806 and cer ...
Founded: 1480-1490 | Location: Espoo, Finland

Porvoo Cathedral

The Porvoo Cathedral was originally made of wood. The first stone walls were built between 1410 and 1420 and in 1450 the church was expanded four meters towards east and six meters towards south. The cathedral has been destroyed by fire numerous times; in 1508 by Danish and in 1571, 1590, and 1708 by Russian forces. On May 29, 2006, the outer roof collapsed after arson, however with the inner ceiling undamaged and the ca ...
Founded: 1410-1420 | Location: Porvoo, Finland

Rusko Church

The Church of Rusko was built probably in 1510-1530 and was dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene. It's one of the smallest medieval churches in Finland. The wooden belfry was erected in 1744. There are three medieval crucifixes in church, other 11 are moved to the National Museum or to the Historical Museum of Turku. The National Board of Antiques has named the church area, surrounding graveyard and near stone bridge as natio ...
Founded: 1510-1530 | Location: Rusko, Finland

Naantali Church

The Naantali Church was originally part of the Catholic Convent of St. Bridget. The convent was built between years 1443 and 1462 and church probably later in the end of 15th century. Nowadays the church is the only remaining building of the convent, which was closed during Reformation in 1540s. Naantali Church is damaged several times by fire and the present interior is mostly from the modern times except the pulpit (162 ...
Founded: 1443-1462 | Location: Naantali, Finland

Lemböte Chapel

The chapel of Lemböte is a ruined stone church in Lemland. It has dated to the beginning of 16th century, but first records of the chapel are from the 13th century. Lemland was then an important waypoint between Denmark and Baltic.Archaeologists found a treasure of 270 silver coins inside the chapel in the 19th century. Coins are today in the Åland museum.
Founded: 1500-1530 | Location: Lemland, Finland

Masku Church

The Masku Church, built probably in 1490-1510, and surroundings represents one of the oldest parishes in Western Finland. The Masku parish was mentioned first time in 1234. The Mural paintings and pulpit date from the 17th century. There are also several medieval artefacts like crucifix and Silesian altarpiece located inside the church. Near the church is also "Humikkalan kalmisto", an Iron Age burial ground. Finnish Nat ...
Founded: 1490-1510 | Location: Masku, Finland

Olavinlinna

Olavinlinna ("St. Olaf's Castle" or "Olofsborg") is one of the greatest medieval castles in Finland. It was built to secure the eastern border of the Kingdom of Sweden-Finland. The construction started in 1475 by Erik Axelsson Tott. Russians disturbed construction work sequently, because the castle was sited in Savonia to the Russian side of the border established by the Treaty of Nöteborg. Olavinlinna was completed prob ...
Founded: 1475-1483 | Location: Savonlinna, Finland

Messukylä Old Church

The older church in Messukylä, dedicated to St. Michael, is the oldest building in Tampere. First wooden church in Messukylä was built in the 15th century, probably 1434. The present stone church was built to replace the previous one probably between 1510-1530. The oldest still existing part is the sacristy built in the end of 15th century. During the Civil War (1918), Messukylä was the scene of heavy batt ...
Founded: 1510-1530 | Location: Tampere, Finland

Aboa Vetus & Ars Nova

Aboa Vetus (Old Turku) is a museum of archaeological history. Originally, plans were for only Ars Nova, the contemporary art museum, but during its construction a number of structures and artifacts dating back to the Middle Ages were discovered, and the archaeological excavation that was commissioned eventually transformed into Aboa Vetus. The two museums were combined in 2004.The ruins excavated in the Convent Quarter or ...
Founded: ca. 15th century | Location: Turku, Finland

Vehmaa Church

The picturesque stone church of Vehmaa was built probably between years 1425 and 1440. It's one of the oldest still existing churches in Western Finland. There are some artefacts from Middle Ages in the church. The pulpit is from the 17th century and other interior from 1840s.
Founded: 1425-1440 | Location: Vehmaa, Finland

St. Mary's Church

The Vehkalahti Church (today known as the St. Mary's Church) was built in the 14th century at the place were the town of Hamina is now. The history of Vehkalahti churches begins in 1396, when the first mention of town was written to a letter by Vyborg castle lord. The present stone church was built probably between 1430 and 1470. Because of it's location near the Russian border it was robbed and burned twice in wars duri ...
Founded: 1430-1470 | Location: Hamina, Finland

Mynämäki Church

The Church of St. Lawrence in Mynämäki is the second biggest medieval church in Finland. The sacristy, oldest part of the church, is dated back to the 13th century. The church itself was quite probably erected in the beginning of 15th century to replace the previous wooden church. It was expanded in 1600s and again in 1770s. There are couple of old artefacts inside the church, for example wooden epitah from year ...
Founded: 1425-1440 | Location: Mynämäki, Finland

Raasepori Castle

The Raseborg or Raasepori Castle is one the five remaining medieval castles in Finland. It was founded by Bo Jonsson Grip and it is thought that the castle's first phase was completed sometime between 1373 and 1378. The first written data about the castle is from 1378. Its main purpose was to protect Sweden's interests in southern Finland against the Hanseatic city of Tallinn. The castle was originally built on a small is ...
Founded: 1360-1378 | Location: Raasepori, Finland

Rymättylä Church

The greystone church of St. Jacob, built in 1510s, is one of the most attractive churches in Finland. The medieval interior is very well-preserved, including wall paintings and several artefacts. The oldest item, a beautiful wooden statue with original colours from the 1350's is known as the smiling James of Rymättylä. Finnish National Board of Antiques has named the church site as national built heritage.
Founded: 1510 | Location: Naantali, Finland

Kemiö Church

The present Kemiö stone church replaced the previous wooden church probably in 1469. The bell tower was erected in 1786-1788. The church was originally dedicated to St. Andrew. Fire has damaged Kemiö church several times during centuries. The latest renovation was made in 1920-1922. It was funded by the famous businessman and patron Amos Andersson and designed by architect Armas Lindgren.
Founded: 1469 | Location: Kemiö, Finland

The Church of St. John

The stone church of Sund was built at the end of 13th century or at least before 1310. Church was damaged by fire in 1672 and again in 1921. The church bells were destroyed in both accidents. There are still an altarpiece and wall paintings remaining from the 14th and 15th centuries. Sund Church is the biggest church in Aland.
Founded: 1290-1310 | Location: Sund, Finland

Koroinen Church

Koroinen was the residence of Bishop of Finland between years 1229 and 1300. in 1300 the bishop seat was moved couple of kilometres further down the River Aura, to the present-day Cathedral of Turku. There were at least two wooden churches in Koroinen built in the 14th century. The latest one was probably a stone church. It was later destroyed by the Victual Brothers in 1396. Archaeologists have found remains of three wa ...
Founded: 1229 | Location: Turku, Finland

Korsholm Castle Ruins

Korsholm Castle was a medieval castle in Vaasa. It was probably built in the 1370s and the oldest record dates back to 1384 (the testament of Bo Jonsson Grip, where the castle was called as Krytzeborg). The castle was originally built to a small island and it was surrounded by a moat and two walls. The castle itself was probably built of wood. In the Middle Ages Korsholm was a property of several nobles. The most famous ...
Founded: 1370s | Location: Vaasa, Finland

St Mary's Church

The St. Mary's Church is a medieval stone church located in Maaria. There are no records as to when the present church was built, but the work was probably started in the mid or late 15th century. According to Markus Hiekkanen, the church was probably built in the 1440s. On the basis of the style of the closets, the gables were constructed about 50 years later. There are medieval limestone paintings on the walls, which a ...
Founded: 1440 | Location: Turku, Finland

Porvoo Hill Fort

There are two ancient hill forts in Porvoo, so-called small and big one. There is burial ground in a small hill from the Roman Iron Age (0-400 AD). The items found in excavations reveal that Porvoo river has been a remarkable trading centre already in prehistoric times and local people has had connections to Estonia and Latvia. The bigger hill fort is one of the largest in Finland. It was used for defensive purposes alre ...
Founded: 14th century | Location: Porvoo, Finland

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Castle de Haar

Castle de Haar is the largest and most fairytale-like castle in the Netherlands. The current buildings, all built upon the original castle, date from 1892 and are the work of Dutch architect P.J.H. Cuypers, in a Neo-Gothic restoration project funded by the Rothschild family.

The oldest historical record of a building at the location of the current castle dates to 1391. In that year, the family De Haar received the castle and the surrounding lands as fiefdom from Hendrik van Woerden. The castle remained in the ownership of the De Haar family until 1440, when the last male heir died childless. The castle then passed to the Van Zuylen family. In 1482, the castle was burned down and the walls were torn down, except for the parts that did not have a military function. These parts probably were incorporated into the castle when it was rebuilt during the early 16th century. The castle is mentioned in an inventory of the possessions of Steven van Zuylen from 1506, and again in a list of fiefdoms in the province Utrecht from 1536. The oldest image of the castle dates to 1554 and shows that the castle had been largely rebuilt by then. After 1641, when Johan van Zuylen van der Haar died childless, the castle seems to have gradually fallen into ruins. The castle escaped from total destruction by the French during the Rampjaar 1672.

In 1801 the last catholic van Zuylen in the Netherlands, the bachelor Anton-Martinus van Zuylen van Nijevelt (1708-1801) bequeathed the property to his cousin Jean-Jacques van Zuylen van Nyevelt (1752-1846) of the catholic branch in the Southern Netherlands. In 1890, De Haar was inherited by Jean-Jacques' grandson Etienne Gustave Frédéric Baron van Zuylen van Nyevelt van de Haar (1860-1934), who married Baroness Hélène de Rothschild. They contracted architect Pierre Cuypers in 1892 to rebuild the ruinous castle, which took 15 years.

In 1887, the inheritor of the castle-ruins, Etienne van Zuylen van Nijevelt, married Hélène de Rothschild, of theRothschild family. Fully financed by Hélène's family, the Rothschilds, the couple set about rebuilding the castle from its ruins. For the restoration of the castle, the famous architect Pierre Cuypers was hired. He would be working on this project for 20 years (from 1892 to 1912). The castle has 200 rooms and 30 bathrooms, of which only a small number on the ground floor have been opened to be viewed by the public. In the hall, Cuypers has placed a statue with his own image in a corner of the gallery on the first floor.

The castle was equipped by Cuypers with the most modern gadgets, such as electrical lighting with its own generator, and central heating by way of steam. This installation is internationally recognized as an industrial monument. The kitchen was for that period also very modern and still has a large collection of copper pots and pans and an enormous furnace of approximately 6 metres long, which is heated with peat or coals. The tiles in the kitchen are decorated with the coats of arms of the families De Haar and Van Zuylen, which were for this purpose especially baked in Franeker. Cuypers marked out the difference between the old walls and the new bricks, by using a different kind of brick for the new walls. For the interior Cuypers made a lot of use of cast iron.

In the castle one can see many details which reminds one of the family De Rothschild, such as the David stars on the balconies of the knight's hall, the motto of the family on the hearth in the knight's hall (A majoribus et virtute) and the coat of arms of the family right underneath on the hearth in the library.

The interior of the castle is decorated with richly ornamented woodcarving, which reminds one of the interior of a Roman Catholic church. This carving was made in the workshop of Cuypers in Roermond. The place where later also the interiors of many Roman Catholic churches were made, designed by Cuypers. Cuypers even designed the tableware. The interior is also furnished with many works of the Rothschild collections, including beautiful old porcelain from Japan and China, and several old Flemish tapestries and paintings with religious illustrations. A showpiece is a carrier coach of the woman of a Shogun from Japan. There is only one more left in the world, which stands in a museum in Tokyo. Many Japanese tourists come to De Haar to admire exactly this coach, which was donated from the Rothschilds collections.

Surrounding the castle there is a park, designed by Hendrik Copijn, for which Van Zuylen ordered 7000 fully grown trees. Because these could not be transported through the city of Utrecht, Van Zuylen bought a house and tore it down. The park contains many waterworks and a formal garden which reminds one of the French gardens of Versailles. During the Second World War many of the gardens were lost, because the wood was used to light fires, and the soil was used to grow vegetables upon. At this time, the gardens are restored in their old splendor.

For the decoration of the park, the village Haarzuilens, except for the town church, was broken down. The inhabitants were moved to a place a kilometer further up, where a new Haarzuilens arose, where they lived as tenants of the lord of the castle. This new village was also built in a pseudo-medieval style, including a rural village green. The buildings were for the most part designed by Cuypers and his son Joseph Cuypers.