Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Aland Churches

We will be spending four nights on the Aland Islands between Finland and Sweden. While the isles are part of Finland, the people speak Swedish and the islands have their own flag and government. Among other anomalies, this means the it is effectively a tax-free zone.

While there, we will be searching out relatives. Cherie has ancestors who came from these islands as does David's brother-in-law Roy. We will search out several of the churches as we take our sojourn on the isles. Each of the 16 churches is unique in some way. All these churches except the modern church in Mariehamm were built as Catholic churches and converted during the Reformation. We will not be visiting all of them as that would mean more ferry rides than we have time or energy for.

Most of the Aland churches are characterized by elaborate artistic decorations. The early Gothic wall paintings in Lemland, Jomala, and Sund are the oldest in Finland. Moreover, the second half of the 15th century was a time of new flourishing in wall paintings and wooden sculptures. A good example of this is the Church of St. Anna in Kumlinge where the wall paintings entirely cover the vaults and walls. 

We will start with five churches the Visit Aland website says we should not miss. Headings include the town and the name of each church.

And here are three other websites you might check out.

 Jomala - Church of St. Olaf

This limestone church is probably the oldest of Aland's churches dating from before 1280. Interior wall paintings are at least that old. The church does include extensions built in the 19th century.


Sund - Church of St. John

Aland's largest church was built at the end of the 13th century. The tower and wings were added later. Twice burned in 1678 and 1921, so not everything is original. The altarpiece, a triptych is from the 15th century with the upper part added in 1662. Wall paintings are even older dating from the 14th century. The organ dates from 1869. The 5 meter crucifix has been dated to the 1250s. This church also has the only votive painting in Aland in its porch dating from 1671.


Lemland - Church of St. Brigitta

The Church of St. Brigitta was built at the end of the 13th century replacing an earlier wooden church. The tower was built in 1317, the spire added 500 years later. The pulpit was built in 1852. RW Ekman painted the altarpiece in 1876. The church features two votive ships, one from the 17th century and the other from 1844. Votive ships were presented to the church by sailors in thanks for lives saved or along with prayers that the sailor would be spared in the future. An old chapel stands near the church and is also pictured below.

Finstrom - Church of St. Michael

It's uncertain when this church was built. Possible dates range from the 12th to the 15th centuries. However, an earlier church on the site almost certainly dates from 1000. This church has one of the best preserved interiors in all of Finland and includes several medieval wooden sculptures and wall paintings from the 15th century. The wooden sculptures dating from the 12th century are the oldest in Finland.

Hammarland - Church of St. Catherine

This church, built in the 13th century, burned in the 15th century and was rebuilt. The vaulted cupola and tower placement are unusual for Aland churches. Wall paintings date from the 15th century. The pulpit as built in 1650. This church has another altarpiece by RW Eckman from 1869.

The next three churches are the only wooden churches remaining on the islands. It's interesting that these wooden churches are newer than those built of limestone.

Lumparland - Church of St. Andrew

The oldest of these wooden churches was built in 1728 to replace one built in 1540 and destroyed by fire. The original red paint was replaced by yellow in 1870 and white in 1896. It features a votive ship from 1835, a pulpit from 1842, and an altarpiece painted by Victor Westerholm in 1887.

Sottunga - Chapel of St. Maria Magdalena

This red chapel is under the auspices of the Foglo church. The smallest wooden church in Finland it was built in 1730 after being destroyed by fire in the Great Northern War between Sweden and Russia. The pulpit by Jonas Bergman dates to 1753.

Brando - Chapel of St. James

Built in 1893, this church has a magificent altarpiece from the Middle Ages. Located in the far northwest corner of the Aland Islands, we will probably not see this one in person.

The rest of the churches are listed in no particular order.

Mariehamm - Church of St. George

The newest of Aland's churches was built in 1926-27. Designed by Lars Sonck with an interior by Bruno Tuukkaned who co-designed the Finnish flag. It features Aland's largest organ and a spire 30 meters high.

Kokar - Church of St. Anne

 I'm not sure why this church is not listed among the six must-see churches in Aland. It is built on the site of a monastery between 1769 and 1784. The ruins of the monastery are still on the church property. The clock tower was built in the 19th century and restored after a storm in 1978. Most impressive may be the votive ship given to the church by a sailor who was captured by and escaped from Turkish pirates. The ship features 64 cannons.

 Kumlinge - Church of St. Anna

This stone church was built about 1510. The bell tower was added in 1767. Wall-to-wall frescoes date from the 1400s. It features the oldest altarpiece in Finland from 1250 and a wooden Madonna from the 15th century.

Eckero - Church of St. Lawrence

The church of St. Lawrence was built in the 1280s to replace a wooden church and remodeled in the 17th and 18th centuries. Large windows brighten the interior, its 16th century paintings, and the B Reinhold altarpiece from 1876. The tower was built in 1467 with a bell from the 18th century.

Vardo - Church of St. Lawrence

Attached to the Church of St. John at Sund, this church was built in the 1380s with a tower added in 1467. The bell dates from the 13th century. It also features an altarpiece by B Reinhold from 1867.

Saltvik - Church of St. John (or St. Mary)

This largest church in Aland was built in the 13th century. Fires burned the church in 1678 and 1921, but the 15th century altarpiece and 14th century wall paintings remain. The upper part of the triptych altarpiece was added in 1662

Foglo - Church of Maria Magdalena

Probably built in the early 1500s, the Church of Maria Magdalena was renovated in 1859-61 and 1968. The first renovation gave it into cross-shaped new-Gothic style unusual in Aland. Visitors can still see owner's marks carved into the stones identifying the family that donated the stones to the church.

Geta - Church of St. George

The church in Geta was built as a chapel attached to Finstrom in the 1460s and served that function until the beginning of the 20th century. Its altarpiece is from 1865; the Empire-style pulpit from 20 years earlier. The belfry was built in the 17th century and reconstructed in 1685 and again in the 19th century,

Tuesday, February 20, 2018


Trolls welcoming us to the highway

Perhaps the most famous road in Norway and perhaps in all of Scandinavia is Trollstigen (or the Troll Highway). We experienced this fabulous drive as we traveled between Loen on the Innvikfjord to Molde near the coast on the Moldefjord. After breakfast we boarded our bus for a nice drive through this rural part of Norway until we reached Geiranger Fjord where we joined a ferry for a couple of beautiful hours. 


Entertainment was provided by some local singers and dancers in costume. We passed several abandoned farms. Our guide told us that this used to be good training ground for football players; they had to be really good to keep the ball from rolling down the hill into the fjord.

Extra beauty was provided by the Seven Sisters Waterfalls. Legend has it that the ladies are being courted by the male falls on the other side. Unfortunately for him they aren’t terribly interested in his ministrations. 

At the town of Geiranger, we left the ferry for the Troll Staircase. We began with a climb out the fjord up a narrow road with 13 switchbacks. As spectacular as this drive is, it is not the Troll Staircase. About an hour later we reach the small town of Eidsdal to catch a short ferry across Norddals Fjord  to Linde and up the Golden Route to the top of the Troll Staircase where we stopped for lunch. A new museum and cafe are being built to accommodate the growing number of tourists. They have already completed an extensive set of walkways and viewing platforms offering a variety of views of the Staircase and the Stigfossen waterfall across the valley.

Perhaps you can count all thirteen switchbacks
Geiranger is a popular stop for cruise ships

Riding in a bus up or down these narrow switch-backed roads is not for the faint-hearted. Our 41 foot bus is just short enough to be legal on the road. At each turn, the front of the bus actually extends over the end of the switchback. Everyone else on the road waits while the bus completes the u-turn. A couple of cars and even a motorhome were forced to back up to give us room. Our guide joked about one driver having trouble with the process that he obviously wasn’t a Norwegian. The licence plate showed he was from Denmark where roads like this don’t exist.

This is the base for the road

A short while after reaching the bottom, we boarded one last boat for our ride to the spectacular Molde hotel where we would spend the night. 

The new visitor center under construction