Wednesday, October 5, 2011


Though a godless society, the USSR had its own deities: the troika of Marx, Lenin and Stalin. When Lenin returned to Russia in August 1917 he found refuge from the Czar’s police in a small farmhouse in Jalkala owned by the brothers Ivan and Peter Parvianen of St Petersburg. Thereafter, this simple house has been a shrine, protected from the natural if not from the spiritual elements by a disproportionately large roof. A statue of a pensive Lenin guards the path to his shrine, reminding the mighty to look on his works and then despair. Round his former empire’s colossal wreck, boundless and bare the lone and level forests stretch far away.
A pensive Lenin reflects in Jalkala on the vanity of power – too late
When in power, the Communist Party advocated atheism and persecuted religious believers. Lutheran and Orthodox churches in Karelia that survived the wars were either destroyed or abandoned after 1944. Like the ruins of Armenian churches in Turkey, they stand as silent witness of-religious intolerance. When the USSR collapsed, the faith of orthodox believers reemerged in spite of several generations of atheistic indoctrination. We saw en route several renovated Orthodox churches or newly-built ones, such as the island monastery just off the main road close to Vasilevo.
Once underground, the church resurfaces
In sharp contrast, the Orthodox Church St. Nicolai in Salmi stood in ruins. Built in 1824, this church was damaged heavily in the Wars. Standing on high ground, it commands a magnificent view of the surroundings. Its deterioration has gone so far that it is soon beyond repair.
The remains of the orthodox church of St. Nicolai outside Salmi
All Lutheran churches damaged in the war still stand in ruins since 1944 when the Lutheran population left. We had barely crossed the border before we saw the first ruin: that of Pälkjärvi church. Destroyed by Soviet forces during the winter war, only the entrance steps to the church remained in a terrain now reclaimed by the forest.
Only the entrance steps remain of the Lutheran church in Pälkjärvi
On our journey we saw one church  ruin after another. But we also discovered a truly exceptional event: a new Lutheran church was under construction in Ruskeala. This was a work of faith. Pastor Kalevi Keinonen returned late in life from Finland to the vicarage where his Father had lived and served before 1944. Kalevi was now building a new Lutheran church to replace the one, destroyed during the wars, where his father once had officiated.
A work of faith: A new church rises in Ruskeala 
Ruskeala is a cheerless village. Its inhabitants commute from worn-down dwellings to distant jobs. Proximity to the border zone contributes to a sense of . isolation. Although there is a school and a kindergarten in the village, we seldom saw anyone on Main Street. Destitute desolation reigns in the side streets and behind the few brick buildings, as in most country settlements in Karelia.
Desolation reigns in Ruskeala
The few tourists who pass through tend to stay at the new church’s hostel, located on its ground floor. Local youngsters greeted us with the Finnish salutation “Terve!” (Hi!), assuming that all tourists were from across the nearby border. We, too, stayed several nights in that hostel, restoring body and soul in the hospitable company of the Keinonen family. Behind the new church being constructed, we found the few foundation stones that remained of its predecessor, bombed by the Soviets in the war.
Only the foundation remains of the old church.…
The destroyed church was not just any church but one built in the 1830s by Carl Ludvig Engel (1778-1840). A German architect who had moved to St Petersburg in 1814, Engel designed many buildings there. In 1816 Czar Alexander I charged him with the task of redesigning Helsingfors (Helsinki), ravished by a fire in 1806, which he had made the capital of his new Grand Duchy. Engel designed among much else the magnificent Senate Square there and its buildings. In 1824 he was appointed chief superintendent for public buildings in Finland. His imprint can be found throughout the country – not least in Karelia.
….in Ruskeala built in the 1830s by Engel
Source: Karelen: Landet som var, 1941 
But why such an impressive church in this now desolate spot?  Ruskeala was an affluent community in the 19th century due to rich agricultural land, valuable timber and marble resources and proximity to the thriving cities of Viborg (Viipuri) and St Petersburg. It could afford a church by the country’s leading architect. The church by Engel was one that any town would be proud of. That it today would appear out of place in this run-down community, had it survived the war, is a sign of the sad changes that have occurred here in the last 70 years.
Near Ruskeala we found a quarry, which had opened in 1768 and supplied marble for buildings both in St Petersburg (The Winter Palace) and in Helsingfors. The quarry was now water-filled and an attraction for paying tourists to paddle around in.
The flooded quarry in Ruskeala attracts some tourists
We drove from Sordavala (Sortavala) down the Northeastern coast of Lake Ladoga. Passing through small communities, we saw few signs of life and a poverty reminiscent of that in the Nordic countries perhaps three generations ago. Seen against the familiar backdrop of Nordic scenery this poverty struck us as anachronistic. Few cars were on the road. This was fortunate since the many potholes encouraged drivers in both directions to drive in the middle of the road. Poor visibility and high speed turned driving into a chicken-race. Who would yield first? (We did.)

Arriving at the coastal village of Lahdenpohja we stopped at the ruin of a brick church on the high ground. From it we admired the view of Lake Ladoga and the surrounding country side. What a peaceful and harmonious community this ghost-town must have been 100 years ago! Here was another church designed by Engel and finished in 1851.
Little remains of Engel’s masterpieces in Karelia 
 This church had survived the wars and was used as a storage facility by the Soviet government after 1944. In the 1970s it burnt down, perhaps by accident, perhaps by arson. Either way, the government saved on maintenance costs. Only the red brick walls remain standing, silently mourning a more peaceful time. Although the ruin has been without a roof for 30-40 years, large trees have not yet grown inside the church nor rooted themselves in its walls. Is this a sign that God wants his church restored?
What would Engel say?
In the small village of Lumivaara we passed a second church, which from a distance still looked intact since it had a tower and a roof. The small cemetery was well kept by an association in Finland of its former inhabitants. We stopped in the hope that the church was still in use.
The church in Lumivaara looked in good shape and invited us to enter
Our hopes rose when we saw that the doors to the church were open. However, we were soon to learn that here an open door was a sure sign that a building was abandoned. The walls were filled with graffiti. The murals were faded. The wooden floor had missing support beams and had risen about one meter in one corner of the Church. It proved hazardous to advance to the altar. Nonetheless, here was a church that still could be restored. Its relatively good shape was due in part to its recent construction in 1935. Designed by Ilmari Launis, it had a short life-span.
….but inside decay was rapidly progressing
We climbed the tower and viewed the countryside in silence – a magnificent but sad view. We pulled the rope in the belfry and heard the church bells peal dirge-like over the town. But no one came to the funeral and we remained alone.

Communism may have thought that it had evicted God from his dwelling. But if God dwells anywhere, it is in the minds of men, not in temples. So the Communist regime had only succeeded in destroying the material, not the immaterial. That was in itself a significant loss in this small corner of the world. Worse was that the Soviet Government expelled about 400 000 people from this area, people who could trace their family roots in this region back seven generations


  1. Dear Emil and Per,
    I've been enjoying The Country That is No More. The photos are beautiful, thought-provoking and melancholy. I know so little about this important place -- thank you for educating me, as well as your readers!

  2. Oh wow! You could make a book about this! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Very nice, again, thank you both, Emil and Per.

  4. Dear Emil and Per!
    Poor desolate and abandoned churches! What a decay of once beautiful material and places of worship! Congratulations, Emil, on the magnificent picture of the flooded quarry - just like taken from a guide book!

  5. Fortsätt med denna romantiska kulturinsats. Romantisk är här inte pejorativt menat. Tvärtom. Vår befogade vördnad för Weibullianismen har tyvärr berövat oss den förtrollning och känsloupplevelse som historien också kan och bör få ge oss. En kirurg bör se en patient som en kropp som skall opereras enligt läkekonstens regler, men sin hustru bör han se som en älskad livskamrat som har kropp och själ, som tänker, känner, doftar och bär med sig hela sitt liv in i hans. Weibull skulle inte ha skrivit en text med den underförstådda titeln ”Karelen i våra hjärtan”, men det gör ni. Tack! Detta behövs ”in diesem Tintengleksenden Sekulum”.
    Så här dagen efter att Tomas Tranströmer fått nobelpriset sitter vi naturligtvis alla och läser om hans dikter. Jag hamnar kvickt i den femtonde dikten i debutsamlingen ”17 dikter” och läser:
    Men i sin forntid färdas Väinämöinen
    på havsvidd gnistrande i forntidsljus
    Han rider. Hästens hovar blir ej våta.

    Och bakom honom : grön hans sångers skog
    Med eken i ett tusenårigt språng.
    Den stora kvarnen drivs av fågelsång.

    Och varje träd är fånge i sitt brus.
    Med stora kottar gllimmande i månljus
    när utmarkstallen tändes som en fyr.

    Ni kommer väl fram till Väinämöinens Karelen också? Till hans sångers gröna skog? Till Kalevala, Akademiska karelska sällskapet, Ostkarelen och Olonets. När romantisk historiekänsla gick vilse. Och även om ni kanske inte besökte Ryssland, måste ni väl skildra Raivola, Edith Södergrans hemby på Karelska näset, där hon växte upp och dit hon sedan återvände och bodde till sin död. Och att Alexandra Kollontay var född i Karelen och hade finsk mamma. Och att Albert Engström höll till där och bjöd dit svenska vänner. Ja, Karelen som hembygd och resmål för så många kulturpersonligheter.
    Nils Lundgren

  6. Nils, förtvivla inte! Vi skumpar nu fram på guppiga vägar och närmar oss snabbt Raivola. Där hoppas vi träffa Edith och - en passant och med lite tur - även Hagar. Och varför inte några andra av de märkligt många författarna som samlades i Villa Golicke för ca 100 år sedan? Vi skall rapportera. När vi ändå är på Näset skall vi uppsöka några av de herrgårdar som funnits där - vilka får bli en överraskning - men du är svår att överraska. Det blir en sorgesam och nostalgisk berättelse där Emils fotografier bär vittnesmål av vad som finns kvar. Vi kom aldrig så långt som till Olonets i Fjärrkarelen men har ändå något att berätta därom. Ha tålamod!


  7. Kauniita kuvia, mutta niin surullista. Karjala elää vielä muistoissamme, menetettynä paratiisina.


    Suomalainen kansansävelmä.

    1. Jo Karjalan kunnailla lehtii puu,

    jo Karjalan koivikot tuuhettuu,

    käki kukkuu siellä ja kevät on.

    Vie sinne mun kaiho pohjaton.

    2. Mä tunnen vaaras ja vuoristovyös

    ja kaskien sauhut ja uinuvat yös

    ja synkkäin metsies aarniopuut

    ja siintävät salmes ja vuonojes suut.

    5. Jo Karjalan kunnailla lehtii puu,

    jo Karjalan koivikot tuuhettuu,

    käki kukkuu siellä ja kevät on.

    Vie sinne mun kaiho pohjaton.