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Tuomas Heikkilä

Turku – the centre of written culture in medieval Finland


This article aims to give an overview on the written culture in medieval Finland, with a special emphasis on the role of the town and episcopal see of Turku.


The written word and its various potential uses reached the area of present-day Finland relatively late, during the 11th and 12th centuries. The written culture arrived hand in hand with the impact of Christianity, and the new faith and its missionaries played a major role in introducing the use of books and charters in the area that was soon annexed to the Swedish realm and established as a regular diocese in the 13th century. Consequently, it was the see of the local bishop that became the natural centre of written culture, reading and writing. At first, the diocese was governed from Nousiainen, but the episcopal see was moved to Räntämäki/Turku in 1229, and to its present location in Turku at the end of the century. Thus, it was the town, cathedral and episcopal see of Turku that were both the primary forum and the paramount actors in the development of written culture in medieval Finland.


Only a handful of independent literary works written in medieval Finland are known. Most of them are very modest indeed, with one notable exception: the legend of the local patron saint, Henry, written in Turku during the last decades of the 13th century. Thoroughly international in its tone, and written in elegant Latin, it was a result of the combined efforts of senior local clergy, with scribes probably commissioned from elsewhere.

Since Turku was the most important commercial town in the eastern Swedish realm, as well as the centre of the diocese covering the whole of medieval Finland, it was a natural gateway for imported books, writing materials and even scribes. As it was the duty of the local bishop to supervise the liturgical books used in the parishes, and as local book production was next to non-existent until the late 14th century, most of the imported books were liturgical in nature. Still, many books of theological, philosophical and other scholarly content found their way to Finland, mainly in the luggage of students returning home from the French and German universities.
Local book production seems to have struck root relatively late, only during the 14th century. Turku and the close-by Brigittine monastery of Naantali were the paramount writing centres within the diocese, but it seems that not even Turku housed or needed well-established, permanent scriptoria, a fact that is emblematic of the limited need for books in a diocese of some 100 parishes. Most of the extant remains of books produced in Turku were by all accounts written more or less ad hoc, and their writing was connected to other aspects of diocesan government, such as the campaigns to build new stone churches in the 15th century.
The 15th century saw the Turku merchants and other laymen take a more central role in the use of charters and other written documents. While scholarly writing still remained in the hands of the clergy, it was the merchants that developed the use of writing in a more pragmatic, down-to-earth direction. Having seen the advantages, the bishop and cathedral chapter of Turku were quick to follow their lay neighbours in the latter half of the century. This resulted in a thorough reform of the written central administration of the diocese, with a new emphasis on archival practices, and the precise writing of several cartularies that are still among the most significant sources for the Finnish Middle Ages.
Ville Walta

 "Scriffuit j Nadhendal" - The Writing of Charters in the  Medieval Monastery of Naantali

The Brigittine monastery in Naantali (1438-1591) was one of the most important centres of literacy in the medieval diocese of Turku. During its relatively short history, the monastery acquired extensive properties of land, which were recorded in charters carefully collected by the monastery. After the Reformation, the monastery lands were seized by the Crown, and in 1554 the charters were also confiscated and taken to Stockholm. As a result, a large number of original charters (274 altogether) from the Naantali archives still survive. Further information on the monastery archives is also provided thanks to a mid-sixteenth century charter registry, written at the time of the confiscation. This collection forms a unique source for the study of charter writing in the Diocese of Turku.  In this article Naantali’s charters are used to explore questions about the scribes who wrote them and about how they were written.
Medieval charters functioned as witnesses of a juridical act. They were written according to a specific model and with certain restrictions on their style. An initial draft, containing only the basic information, was often written first. This draft was then used as the basis for drafting the final charter. This process, including the differences between the initial draft and the final charter, can be observed from one Naantali charter where both the draft and the final charter have been preserved (FMU 4136 and its draft). Other Naantali charters suggest, however, that using previous charters as models may also have been a common practice among scribes. The monastery charters were usually written in the vicinity of the monastery, most often either in Naantali or in Turku.
A study of the charter hands reveals that there were several scribes who wrote more than one charter for the monastery. Naantali charters were clearly written on behalf of the beneficiary, and some scribes can be identified as monastery brothers (Olaus Gunnari and Jöns Budde). In the early years of the monastery many scribes can be distinguished writing charters during a short period of time. After the 1450s usually no more than two scribes appear to have been working with the charters at any one time. The most active scribe, ca. 1476-1498, wrote altogether 47 charters and has been identified as Jöns Filipusson, the monastery’s advocate. Many other scribes wrote a significant number of charters, but have not thus far been identified. Some scribes can also be seen writing charters not directly related to the monastery. It seems clear that their know-how on practical writing was appreciated outside the monastery as well. Comparing Naantali collection to the charters preserved in the copybook  of Turku Cathedral, it is evident that the monastery was a very important centre for charter writing in the second half of the fifteenth century.
Kirsi Salonen

From Provision to Excommunication. The Cathedral Chapter of Turku and the Case of Petrus Benedicti in the Late Middle Ages.

This essay explores how Christians in the medieval diocese of Turku made use of the various papal offices in obtaining what they needed and wanted from the Apostolic See. Until now, historians have usually considered the papal administration as a hierarchical model in which administrators below always execute mandates coming from above. This article challenges this model and argues that the ecclesiastical authorities in the diocese of Turku were able of using the loopholes in canon law and the labyrinth of the papal administration as well as any Christian throughout the Latin West. This essay addresses the problem through one late medieval sample case, that of Petrus Benedicti from the diocese of Turku.
The chosen case is particularly interesting because a problematic papal provision letter in favour of Petrus Benedicti led to a long litigation process that took place both before the Swedish Archbishop of Uppsala and in Rome in the papal Curia. During the different phases of the process not only the two main litigant parties, Petrus Benedicti and the Cathedral Chapter of Turku, but also other persons acting in their own interest addressed all the relevant papal offices: the Apostolic Chancery, the Apostolic Dataria, the Apostolic Penitentiary, as well as the highest ecclesiastical tribunal, Sacra Romana Rota. This case offers a model example of how the medieval system of papal administration could be used (and abused).
Most of the documents used in this essay are already known and edited in the Finnish publication of medieval sources, Finlands medeltidsurkunder. In addition, this essay also makes use of newly found documents from the collections in the Vatican Secret Archives.
Suvianna Seppälä
"Furs and salmon as tax parcels" – The financial status of the Bishop of Turku in the Middle Ages


The medieval diocese of Turku consisted of more than 120 parishes. Due to the great distance between Turku and Uppsala, the diocese was relatively independent from the archbishopric.  The Bishop of Turku enjoyed a strong and independent status both politically and financially, since the Bishop was the wealthiest person in Finland. The basis of the Bishop’s financial strength was the Bishop’s Board (Piispanpöytä). Profits from the castle, manors, and many farms came to the Bishop, and he had the right to collect tax parcels and enjoy hospitality (kinkeri in Finnish, gengärd in Swedish) from the parishes.
The third very important and profitable source of income was the rent paid by the Bishop’s tenants, paid in money, grain (rye and barley), butter and wool; some of the peasants also paid their rent in fish. One very special tax was levied on Kuusisto Island, where the Bishop had 26 tenants. Even at the end of the sixteenth century they paid their taxes only in butter, charcoal and firewood.
The majority of the peasants owned their farms. These taxpayers paid a small part of their whole annual taxes to the Bishop, in rye, barley, butter, dried pike, salted salmon or money. The practices vary in different provinces and parishes. Butter was one of the most important and valuable tax parcels. Along with salmon and pike, butter was also a very typical export product from the diocese during Lent.
Riitta Laitinen
Unsuitable? Banishment and the Banished in Seventeenth-Century Turku
This article deals with banishment from town, a common punishment for various crimes in Europe. Seventeenth-century Turku cases of vagrancy, theft and disobedience are discussed.


Vagrancy was defined both in terms of poverty and of not having a place of recognized employment in the town. In Turku, the practical problems created by vagrancy were not as severe as they were in central Europe or in Stockholm. Still, both the increasing general disdain for poverty and the new beggar laws stemming from Stockholm resulted in Turku as elsewhere in the undeserving poor being associated with vagrancy, and vice versa. Townspeople were instructed not to take in any strangers or people who had not officially registered at the town hall. There were some vagrancy inspections, where illegal residents were ordered to leave town. However, neither the townspeople nor, at times, the town council were very acutely concerned about vagrants in the town; the poor and the placeless found housing in town relatively easily. On the other hand, the provincial Governor admonished the townspeople for having illegal lodgers at a time when farmers were suffering from a labour shortage.

Theft was punishable by death or by corporal punishment and banishment. If expelled from the town, returning thieves risked a death sentence. Regardless, many thieves returned, some because opportunities elsewhere were limited, some because a life in town was difficult to abandon. It also appears that coming back to town presented opportunities for making a living, and that even in a small town it was possible to live outside the eye of the law.
Banishing thieves was never a consistent practice. Often one could get off with fines, jail, or forced labour. The severity of the crime, recidivism, age, and social status seem to have affected the severity of punishment. There was a clear change in sentencing in 1653, when banishment was not included among the list of punishments in a new penal order. Banishment all but disappeared, but it also appears that banishment had in fact already declined as a punishment for theft in the late 1640s, although cases are so few that interpreting the trend is difficult.
The case of the merchant Simon Blom is exceptional. Blom was banished for writing a libellous poem. Blom’s crime was severe, but it is typical of the ‘Gemeinschaft mentality’ that Blom had a decades-long long history of quarrelling with and insulting both his trade partners and the town dignitaries, but was only punished with fines before his last severe offence. Community insiders were often punished in ways intended to preserve the community intact, while the banishment of outsiders served the same purpose by purging the community of unwanted elements. This trend can be seen in all banishment practices in seventeenth-century Turku. However, banishment was a relatively rare form of punishment, and even outsiders, potentially subject by law to banishment, seem to have been able to find opportunities to survive in the town.
Satu Lidman
Fragile or unchaste? Female sexuality and secular law
This article examines issues relating to female sexuality, chastity norms and sexual violence in the context of the secular court practices of late medieval and early modern urban communities in the Swedish realm. The core questions are as follows: To what extent did sexual purity of women characterize contemporary perceptions of acceptable behaviour? Was the chastity of daughters and wives something fragile, a collective possession in constant risk of being stained, and therefore something for fathers, husbands and legislators to protect? Or was female sexuality something beyond control, a threat to be combated through discipline and punishments? How much or in what ways did legitimate sexuality actually depend on gender roles?


Contemporary legislation and its interpretation in court proceedings reveal pervasive patriarchal values. The sexes were not treated equally: a woman was objectified as a form of property, especially with reference to her as a sexual being. Rape and other assaults were not primarily understood as violations against her own person, rights or body, but it was her nearest male relative or husband who would receive compensation. In the case of adultery, the husband had the right to demand the death penalty for his unfaithful wife. Additionally, a collective but deeply gendered honour code, combined with the fear of shame and the belief in God’s wrath, formed the basis for actions in protecting and punishing women for sexual misconduct.
As a consequence of tightening moral norms and especially demands for female chastity after the Reformation, the end of the medieval period in Sweden has to be recognized as an era characterized by the regulation and control of sexual behaviour. Ill reputation, or previous verdicts for vice offences, led to severe consequences both socially and judicially. For women, the loss of sexual honour was a negative turning point. Traces of these attitudes still influence the present-day world, for instance in the attitudes towards rape victims.
Auli Bläuer
Bones and ink. Animals in Turku through archaeological and historical sources
During the medieval and post-medieval period animals were an important part of Turku residents’ daily lives. Animals were always present on town streets and yards, they were part of people’s everyday subsistence, items of craft and trade. Domestic animals were raised inside town boundaries; however, the network of animals that had an impact on life in Turku spread much wider into the countryside. This paper examines how horses, dogs, cats and fur animals are represented in archaeological and historical sources in Turku. The archaeological animal remains consist of pieces of bone of dead animals, while the historical sources are descriptions of (usually) live animals.


The study revealed that animals may be represented very differently in archaeological and historical sources. Horses are almost invisible in the archaeological material. Eating horse meat was forbidden by the Catholic Church during the medieval period, and therefore horse bones were not deposited into the town strata. However, the historical sources indicate that horses were abundant in Turku during the medieval and post-medieval period. By combining these different sources, changes in the status of the horse become apparent. From valuable live animals, the horse became a worthless and even feared dead carcass – although bones from dead horses were still preferred for certain artefacts, such as bone skates. 
Dog and cat bones are regularly found in archaeological bone assemblages in Turku, as are bones chewed by dogs. However, in historical sources these species are rarely mentioned. The urban presence of fur animals is apparent both in bone material and in written sources. The archaeological material includes locally hunted animals, particularly species that were utilized not only for their fur but also for their meat, such as the squirrel. Historical sources refer to furs as trade items, without distinguishing between locally acquired furs and furs transported from Lapland, for example. To combine and compare the archaeological and historical sources is difficult, but revealing. They reveal different aspects of animal species’ social significance, and thus enable the examination of the social meaning of animals from various perspectives and in various contexts.
Tuija Tuhkanen
The missing pulpits of Turku Cathedral


In the Middle Ages and in the early modern period, the Cathedral was the dominant landmark of the city of Turku, and a common space shared by different classes, and for patrons it offered a stage for presentation. In this article, I examine the pulpits of Turku Cathedral from the 17th century, and how they served the purposes of both spiritual preaching and the public representation of their donors.


All the Cathedral's medieval lecterns and the oldest pulpits are missing, either by fire or otherwise. However, entries concerning them survive in the church's records, and of the pulpits of the 17th century more detailed descriptions are extant.
With the introduction of Lutheran teachings, the sermon became established as a central focus of the services, which can be seen in the enhanced prominence of the pulpit in the church space. After the Reformation, all the medieval lectern desks were replaced by elevated pulpits standing on legs. Almost all the 17th century pulpits were decorated with sculptures depicting the Saviour, the apostles and the evangelists.
Only isolated references exist for the pulpits of Turku Cathedral from the late 16th century and early 17th centuries. However, quite exact descriptions exist of the pulpits donated by Henrik Fleming (1584-1650) and Petter Thorwöste the younger (d. 1703). The pulpit donated by Fleming was erected in the Cathedral in 1650, but was destroyed in the fire of 1681. A new pulpit was commissioned in the same year from a sculptor from Stockholm, Johan Ulrich Beurle (d. 1697). Its purchase was funded by the iron works tycoon of Mustio, Petter Thorwöste, but it took almost a decade for the new pulpit to be completed and installed. This pulpit stood in the Cathedral for much longer than its predecessor, but its fate too was to perish in a fire — in the Great Fire of Turku in 1827.
In the eyes of the people, the pulpit was symbolic of the innovation of the Lutheran faith. Its primacy was underlined both by its highly visible location and by the centrality of the sermon delivered from it in Lutheran divine worship. As the congregation listened to the preacher, they would also be seeing both the rich religious carvings, and the emblems of the donors mounted on the pulpit. Henrik Fleming, who represented the aristocratic ruling class, and Petter Thorwöste, the representative of a major merchant family, both played an exemplary role in the beautification of Turku Cathedral, in accordance with the demands of their social status, and they were remembered with appropriate words of thanks and commendation.
The Cathedral was an especially desirable focus for donations. It was also the stage for recurrent fires, changes and building projects. In addition, it was the stage where the privileged classes and civic benefactors strove for a prominent place in the eyes of God and the people.
Translation: Ilja Hirvonen
Reima Välimäki
Historical fiction of Hilda Huntuvuori (1887-1968) and the imagined Early Medieval Turku
The article treats early twentieth century Finnish medievalism in the historical fiction of Hilda Huntuvuori (1887–1968). Huntuvuori, publishing mostly in the 1920s and ‘30s, belonged to a generation of writers, artists and scholars who used early Finnish history – real and imagined – to promote a nationalist and militarist right-wing interpretation of past and present. Historical fiction was seen as an outstanding tool to educate the young in the new ideology of morals and ideals. As a teacher, writer and independent scholar, Huntuvuori used these roles to create authority and credibility for her fiction, and to occupy perhaps the only space possible for a woman of her days to act as an interpreter and commentator of history.
The particular case examined in this article is the imagined foundation of the medieval town of Turku. According to present knowledge, Turku was founded at the turn of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, but no written sources have survived. Thus it provided an excellent opportunity for historical fiction to create an imagined past, fitting for her contemporary agenda.


In her series of historical novels, of which Lallin pojat (Sons of Lalli, 1926), Kokemäenmaan kuningas (King of Kokemäki, 1930) and Piispa Tuomas (Bishop Thomas, 1933) are treated in detail, Huntuvuori creates a fictional saga about Finnish families and prominent figures of early medieval history. In her world, Finland in  the twelfth and thirteenth century is ruled by local heroes and kings, unpolluted yet by foreign (Swedish) rule or influence. They are politically independent actors in history, parallel or supreme in power and wits to their neighbouring nations.
In this fictional history, Turku is founded through the initiative of local Finnish elders. The act of foundation is done in the last years of the twelfth century, thus predating by several decades the traditional founding date of 1229 (now generally discredited). The building of the Cathedral and the Dominican convent are also set further back in time. The establishment of the city and its central elements are thus situated in an imagined, Finnish-speaking and independent early medieval Golden Age, creating an object of identification for the readership of the young Finnish republic.
Hannu Salmi
Katarina and the Man of a Hundred Swords – Medieval and Early Modern Turku on Screen

The article focuses on the representation of the city of Turku, the oldest urban centre in Finland, in cinema. On the one hand, this study examines the portrayal of the city and of medieval and early modern history in Finnish cinema in general, although this representation remains rather thin since most historical films produced in Finland address nineteenth and twentieth century history, the processes leading to independence and the development of the young nation state. The article analyses however not only historical films but also other references to the past, drawing on Jan Assmann’s notion of mnemohistory and the idea that every period has its own reception history, making it important to study how in this case medieval and early modern history is remembered. Therefore it is also essential to pay attention to documentary films that reference the remote past without dramatic reenactment, by portraying historic locations and by using voice-over narration to describe particular moments in history.

The history of Turku has been addressed only seldom in fictional narrative film, but after World War II, in the 1950s, several historical films were premiered such as Katarina the Beautiful Widow (Katarina kaunis leski, 1950) and Man of a Hundred Swords (Sadan miekan mies, 1951).  It seems that the remote past was associated more with romantic adventure stories than the recent past, and the more distant past seems to have deepened the gap perceived between past and present. Still, it is important to ask why the era of the Swedish realm was particularly emphasized in the 1950s. One might say that the historical world and mind-frame of Zachris Topelius made a cinematic comeback, although in a transformed mode, and this can be interpreted as a conscious wish to stress Western cultural connections, the importance of which gained new weight in the context of the Cold War.

As mnemohistoric documents, an aspect shared by both feature films and short documentaries is the fact the period of the Swedish realm is remembered mostly as a Lutheran age. In both genres of filmmaking, the Catholic past of Finland is almost completely missing, although there are brief references in short documentaries on Turku to the legend of St. Henry. Otherwise, the Catholic past remains neglected in the Finnish film heritage: there are only two feature films situated in the pre-Reformation era, namely The Slaying of Elina (Elinan surma, 1938) and The Cross and the Flame (Risti ja liekki, 1957). From a mnemohistoric perspective, Finnish cinema has treated medieval and early modern history much more thinly than the written literature and theatre of the same period, and focused more on the history of independent Finland and its historical roots at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. 


English language consultant: Keith Battarbee