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The Origin of the Stone Sacristy

Suur Savo Museum - The Origin of the Stone Sacristy


No documents survive from which the exact age of the stone sacristy can be determined. Formerly, the stone sacristy was thought to date from the 14th century on the basis of written sources relating to the parish of Savilahti. The name Savilahti is first mentioned in 1323 in the peace treaty of Pähkinäsaari (Nöteborg, Schlusselburg). Precise knowledge of the existence of the parish dates from 1329, in a letter by Maunu Eerikinpoika. The assumption that the stone sacristy dated back to the 14th century was not challenged until the 1980s. A study by Esa Hassinen published in 1986 considered the question of when the stone sacristy was built from a quite new standpoint. The sources used by Hassinen were medieval stone church buildings. By tackling the research problem from a completely new standpoint, Hassinen came to a quite different conclusion regarding the dating of the building, moving the date much nearer to the present.
The stone sacristy in 1896, before  renovation

Medieval stone churches were built in south-west Finland at the turn of the 14th century. Most of the stone churches in the Häme region were built about one hundred years later. In the west, the nearest surviving medieval stone sacristy is in Padasjoki. Most of the surviving individual stone sacristies are in Häme (7). These were evidently built right at the end of the Middle Ages. If the stone sacristy in Mikkeli has connections with the corresponding buildings in Häme, then the 14th century date, when the sacristy was formerly assumed to have been built, is much too early. Indeed, it seems far more likely that the stone sacristy in Mikkeli was built in the late 15th century than in the early 14th century. In his doctoral thesis published in 1994, the researcher Markus Hiekkanen argues that the stone sacristy was built in the late 16th century.

Use of the Stone Sacristy
According to local historical studies, it was used as a place of worship. This does not seem very likely. There is no evidence of such use. Rather the sacristy was used as a storage place for sacred utensils etc.

The sacristy was part of a church which stood on an east-west axis to the south of the sacristy. The sacristy joined the church proper at its eastern end. The altar stood at the eastern end of the church.

Kellokallio church
Kellokallio church is first mentioned in written sources in the 17th century. On Pietari Brahe's fief map of 1645 there is a small picture of a church, which is presumably the first drawing of both Kellokallio church and the stone sacristy. The question of whether the drawing was of a real church or whether it was only a general symbol of a church is still to be answered, but it is very tempting to interpret it as a drawing of a real church. The church did not have an actual belfry, but presumably the bells hung on wooden supports in the nearby Kellokallio.


Pietari Brahe's fief map of 1645
The church had fallen into disrepair by the 18th century; the bishop's inspection in the early 18th century showed that the church was in need of urgent repairs. Dilapidation continued, however, and very soon the parishioners had to admit that Kellokallio church was beyond repair. A new church was built in what is now Kirkkopuisto (Church Park) and finished in 1754. The completion of the new church meant the continued dilapidation of both Kellokallio church and the stone sacristy. Kellokallio church was demolished in 1769 but the stone sacristy was left to wait for better times. There is no knowledge of when Kellokallio church was built. Could it have been the site of an earlier wooden church? Unfortunately, nothing is known about this question.
Were the surroundings of the Stone Sacristy an ancient place of worship, a burial ground?
Indications of a prehistoric burial ground around the stone sacristy have come from a few archaeological finds. In the surroundings of the sacristy two convex brooches were found at the beginning of the last century. The convex oval brooches date from the 12th-13th centuries. The burial ground was destroyed when the road was constructed around the stone sacristy. In the same way, a great deal of the local history of the Mikkeli region has been lost.

Road construction also caused the final destruction of the Christian graves under the floor of Kellokallio church. It was the custom to bury the dead under the church floor as well as in the immediate vicinity of the church buildings. Kellokallio church was used as the graveyard of the new church that was completed in 1754.

Underneath the stone sacristy lie the earthly remains of 22 people. Most of the deceased were mummified. Fifteen of the deceased were children. Inscriptions on the coffins made it possible to identify some of the deceased, e.g. Captain Carl Fredrick Jägerhorn, who was born in 1722 and died in 1773, and his daughter, who was born in 1752. Captain Jägerhorn was the owner of the government estate at Visulahti. All of the people buried under the stone sacristy are from the 18th century. The graveyard around the stone sacristy was about 100 m in diameter. The people buried under the floor of the sacristy gradually became an attraction that people could go to see at the beginning of the last century for a one markka entrance fee. This naturally caused irritation, but not until 1930 was the floor sealed with concrete. After that the deceased have been allowed to rest in peace. By that time the bodies left under the concrete floor were badly decayed, for in 1923 the floor had been repaired but the ventilation of the space beneath the floor had been neglected, owing to which the bodies rotted away.

Mikkeli's first building preservation dispute
In the second half of the 19th century the badly dilapidated stone sacristy was the subject of Mikkeli's first building preservation dispute. The provincial governor, A. Thesleff, ordered that the sacristy be demolished and that the bodies under it be buried in the graveyard. At a parish meeting the building was held to be an ancient monument which should accordingly be preserved and repaired. According to the governor, the building was to be demolished in the course of 1852. The threat of demolition caused the suburban parish of Mikkeli and Mikkeli Ladies Association to make a stand for the preservation of the building. The Senate overturned the decision of the provincial government on 25.2.1853. The suburban parish had the building repaired but as early as 1864 it was found to be in bad condition. In the 1880s the Ladies Association collected money for the renovation of the building. Several architects were asked to submit renovation plans. On the basis of the plans drawn up by Svante Magnus Schjerfbeck, the building finally received its present form in 1900.

The building as a museum
In 1930-31 the Suur-Savo Museum Association collected articles that were no longer in use from neighbouring parishes with the intention of putting them on display in the stone sacristy. Most of the articles are from the 18th and 19th centuries. An exception is the set of Communion articles which dates from the 17th century. A pulpit from the church in Mäntyharju shows well how biblical characters and events were made known to the illiterate parishioners.

The religious punishment of dishonouring was removed on 15.5.1848 by imperial decree. This punishment had come into being during the orthodoxy of the 16th-17th centuries. The punishment of dishonouring was inflicted on sinners by, e.g. confining them in stocks or making them sit on a stool of repentance ('black stool'). Those who received this punishment were usually sentenced for committing immoral acts. Women were made to sit on the stool of repentance for adultery and the male punishment was the stocks.

Churching took place on the churching stool, the 'grey stool'. After childbirth a woman was unclean and could not take part in the church service until she had been churched. This took place six weeks after childbirth.

Other articles on display include an usher's rod, which was used for waking sleeping parishioners, collection bags, sconces, chandeliers etc.