English history

 

THE CHURCH OF St. HENRY AT NOUSIAINEN

 

The church of St. Henry is situated on high ground near the upper course of the River Hirvi which divides the parishes of Lemu and Nousiainen. After the Cathedral of Turku, it is undoubtedly the most important of Finnish medieval churches. The church contains many treasures associated with St. Henry and the establishment of the first Finnish diocese.

 

Historical research and national tradition agree in placing the martyrdom of St. Henry in the year 1156 and it is also know that he was buried in Nousiainen. The first reliable medieval mention of the Church of Nousiainen is in the year 1232, but this, as well as several subsequent records, refers not to the present church but to a smaller church dedicated to Our Lady which was probably built of wood.

 

The origins of the style, including details, can be traced to the mid -13th Century brick architecture of Lake Mälaren in central Sweden. The style is believed to have been introduced into Finland by Bishop Johannes I, who before becoming bishop of Finland in 1286, had been abbot of the Dominican monastery in Sigtuna. Immediately after his consecration as bishop, he initiated simultaneously the construction of two significant churches the Cathedral of Turku and the Church of Nousiainen.

 

The Church of Nousiainen is thus noted not only for its historical significance, but also for its architectural features. Among the most striking of the latter are the triple windows at the east end and the abundant use of brick, especially in the upper parts of the walls.

The significance of brick as a building material and as a means of enlivening the rhythms of the interior has been emphasized by the use of painted brick imitations on the surfaces of the walls. The superiority of the church over the other medieval churches is reflected by the unusually numerous brick patterns in the windows, in the south porch and at the foot of the pillars. The depth and narrowness of the sanctuary make it exceptional when compared to those of other churches of the same period.

 

It may have been that Bishop Johannes intended to make the church two-aisled, in such a way that there would have been three consecutive pillars in the inner walls. The construction of the church continued over a considerable period of time and its structural forms can be analysed chronologically.

 

When the foundations of the church and the main walls had been completed, one can see that there was some hurry to erect a separate chancel for the high altar, which was somewhat different from the present one. The triumphal arch was narrower by more than two meters and also considerably lower. The foundation stones of this first triumphal arch still exist beneath the floor of the present chancel. The perpendicular pillars on each side of the triumphal arch were made of rounded brick and belonged to the original wide pillars which bordered the opening. We can assume that the chancel, immediately after the completion of its walls, was provided with a temporary root, either with a wooden ceiling or more likely one in which the frame was left uncovered.

 

At the time when Bishop Johannes moved to Uppsala in 1290 and the see was occupied for the first time by a Finnish born bishop, Maunu I, the construction of the body of the church was about four meters high; it had reached the height, that is to say of the pillars which remain in the walls. At this time, a complete change was made in the building plans. The church, originally intended to be two-aisled, was changed to three-aisled when the vaulting was begun. With the change in building plans, the bricks intended for the continuation of the wall pilasters became unnecessary and were used for decorating the base of the pillars. The carefully considered placing of the pillar rows made necessary an alternation to the newly completed opening of the triumphal arch. Along with the vaulting, the opening of the triumphal arch was expanded from both sides as far as the side walls of the chancel and the pillar rows, i.e. to its present width. The height of the old arch can be observed in the remains of the old arch, now in the loft above the church. It is about one meter higher than the present one. The construction of the church in this form was completed in the first years of the 14th century, while Maunu I was still the bishop.

 

Due to problems in construction, the triumphal arch was restored yet a third time. This was probably done in the 1370 when the Holy See is known to have granted indulgences in connection with the Church of Nousiainen.

 

After the relatively simple painted decorations of the church had been completed in the early 15th century and after Bishop Maunu II Tavast had donated to the church its most priceless possession, the sarcophagus of St. Henry, it can be said that the Church of Nousiainen was complete in its medieval form The decorative paintings are characterized by a certain primitiveness, as well as a determination and robustness of design. As subjects of the pictures, different allegorical animal and human figures, geometric arrangements, tree of life patterns, and also some coats-of-arms were chosen. Of the latter one can identify only the coat-of-arms of the Kirves family, to be found on the second of the southern pillars, counting from the sanctuary. Also of interest is the very ancient picture of a ship on the third of the northern pillars, which is of the Viking type. On the second of the northern pillars, there is an interesting painting representing a scene of torment.

 

The dark limestone sarcophagus, made between 1415 and 1420, is covered with brass plate, probably of Flemish origin. The historical themes represented in the fine engravings may well originate from Finland, although the details of the costumes and the arms clearly represent the early international style of the Fourteenth Century. On the cover of the sarcophagus is a picture of Bishop Henry surrounded by a stately Gothic portal. Beneath his feet there is to be seen a small human figure, the murderer of the bishop. Lalli of Köyliö. Kneeling in front of the bishop is the donator of the sarcophagus, Bishop Maunu II Tavast. In the inscription above his head is the word " commenda" (Speak on our behalf). Around the edge is an extract from Bishop Henry's liturgy in Latin, and at the corners are the symbols of the evangelists. The middle of the text band is broken on either side by the coats-of-arms of the Cathedral Chapter in Turku and the Tavast family. On the sides of the sarcophagus are scenes from the life of Bishop Henry, from the crusade to his martyrdom as well as some of the miracles wrought by the saint.

The sarcophagus stands in its original, tomb-like granite foundation which is hollow in the centre. Although there is no direct evidence that the sarcophagus stands exactly on Bishop Henry's grave, one can nevertheless presume that the saint was buried either at the site of the present church or in the immediate vicinity of it.

 

Among other medieval objects in the Church there is the large wood carving of Bishop Henry on the pillar at the right, when entering from the armoury. The crucifix attached to the triumphal arch is likewise from the Middle Ages, although of considerably later date than the wood carving. Unfortunately the present un restored state of the crucifix does not really do justice to it as a work of art. In the small closet in the armoury there is a late medieval portrait of S. Sebastian. In addition there are some good examples of Fifteenth Century carvings which are at present to be seen in the Finnish National Museum. These include works of the so-called Master of Lieto and of the school of the Master of Bunge from Gotland.

Hanging in the north aisle of the church are two iron chandeliers which are typically medieval in style.

The base of the pulpit is decorated with paintings of Our Lord and five Apostles. On the cover of the pulpit are the coats-of-arms of the donators and those of the Stjernkors and Jägerhorn families, as well as the year of the donation - 1640. The Rococo style hour glass on the pulpit dates from the year 1746.

The only remaining limestone burial slab is to be seen on the floor of the sanctuary. According to the inscription the stone covered the grave of Major Johan von Willebrandt (1730-1810).

 

Above the door leading to the armoury is an old altar painting with the signature "J. G. Geitell pinxit D:6 Julius 1756".

With the exception of the sarcophagus and the pulpit, the fabric was completely restored between 1967 and 1969 in connection with necessary repairs to the church. The architects Maija Kairamo and Heikki Havas of the Archaeological Commission were responsible for this work.

 

The chapel on the southern side of the sanctuary is an addition to the otherwise original framework of the church. The chapel was constructed in order to house the sarcophagus of Bishop Henry according to a plan made by J. Stenbäck in the year 1901. The chapel lost its significance in 1969 when the sarcophagus was removed to its original place on the grave of Bishop Henry.

 

To the south of the church there is a modest bell tower with a square-shaped foundation. It was built during the years 1759-1760 by Matti Ledenius of Turku.

 

Outside the sanctuary, at the east end, there is a gravestone which was erected by the parishioners to the memory of two of their pastors, Abraham Achrenius (d. 1769) and his son Anders (Antti) Achrenius (d.1810), both widely know as revivalist preachers.

 

                                    Come, Jesus, to Nousiainen

                                    Fill the people's hearts.

                                    Let the light of Thy word

                                    Prepare the mind

                                    For Thy presence and Thy dawning.

                                    The shining of that bright star

                                    Will dispel the fog of sin.

                       

                                    (2. Piet. 1:19)

                                    (Abraham Achrenius)