Skip to main content

Notes from ... Turku A guest column by Katariina Ylikännö, project coordinator of 2017’s anniversary of the Reformation in Turku

The latest “Notes from ...” column takes us to Finland, to the Reformation city of Turku on the country’s south coast, where intensive preparations are underway for the forthcoming anniversary of the Reformation.

Turku Cathedral
The first Protestant changes to Church services were introduced in Turku Cathedral (Foto: © Visit Turku)

Turku and the Nordic Reformation

As Finland was part of the Kingdom of Sweden for centuries, a decree by the Swedish parliament in Västerås in 1527 brought about the Reformation there too. Two aspects had a large influence on its development: on the one hand King Gustav Wasa was interested in the thought of Luther and his followers, since he wished to shatter the political power of the Church and appropriate its property for the Crown. On the other hand, within the Church itself there were many who found the Protestant faith persuasive. They were familiar with Luther’s doctrine via their personal contacts and from German writings, and taught and preached in its spirit. 

Another important role in the Nordic Reformation was played by the students who studied under Luther and Melanchthon in Wittenberg. The most renowned Finnish reformer was Mikael Agricola (ca. 1510–1557), who earned his Master’s in Wittenberg from 1536–39. The young episcopal chancellor had already procured a copy of one of Luther’s postils, subjected it to thorough study and critical examination – and also used it as a stimulus for his own sermons. In Wittenberg he concentrated on the Finnish translation of the New Testament. He was probably a guest at the Luther family table along with other students. He called Luther an honourable father, but claimed Melanchthon to be his teacher.

medieval market
In summer, the medieval market attracts thousands of visitors to the centre of Turku. (Foto: © Visit Turku)

Upon returning to Turku, Agricola initially worked as the rector of a school before becoming Bishop of the city. He also continued his written work. Translating the Bible was not easy, since there was no established vernacular tradition on which to draw. Agricola received the honorary title of Father of Written Finnish for his work. In 1543 the first work of Finnish literature appeared, the ABC Book. It was followed a year later by his prayer book containing almost 700 prayers. Finally, in 1548, the Finnish translation of the New Testament appeared. Later Agricola also published agendas for church services and began translating the Old Testament. 

Along with Agricola, other students returning from Germany were active in Turku. The city played an important role in the Finnish Reformation as the most important ecclesiastical centre in the East of the Swedish Empire. The priests were educated in the spirit of Lutheran doctrine, and in the cathedral the first Protestant changes to services were introduced. Reformatory thought spread from Turku throughout Finland. Today the city’s historical landmarks such as the cathedral and the castle serve as reminders of the Reformation. The latter is Finland’s largest medieval building and during the Reformation it was the scene of various intrigues within the Swedish royal family, including some related to faith. Both buildings are among Finland’s most popular historical tourist attractions.

Turku’s castle
During the Reformation era, Turku’s castle was the scene of various intrigues within the Swedish royal family, including some of a religious nature. (Foto: © Visit Turku)

Turku on the road to the anniversary

With an eye on the anniversary year in 2017, Turku is seeking to raise its profile as a Reformation city and strengthen its ties with European Reformation cities. To this end, the city’s unique history is a potent point of departure. The city is also looking to the future however. On the road to the anniversary year Turku is considering what it means to be a modern Reformation city. How does the legacy of the Reformation live on in us and around us? What is the city’s significance today as the country’s ecclesiastical capital, as a modern university city and as a lively city of culture or as an international port? What duty is bestowed on it by its history?

Some months ahead of the opening, preparations for the anniversary of the Reformation are well underway in Turku. Both the Church and municipal and civil society actors are preparing a colourful programme for the jubilee. Special emphasis will be placed on the cultural and spiritual roots of the Finns, which are steeped in Lutheranism. The Church’s focus will be on the theme of grace. What better way for the Church to make the core of Christian faith visible for people of today? Agricola – including the drink of the same name – will not be absent from the jubilee. Along with the ecumenical Kirchentag, exhibitions, concerts, readings and church services there will be city rallies, theatre (both with and without puppets), art and literature, medieval foods and atmosphere, theses and apple trees, games for mobile phones, apps and much more. Finland’s city of the Reformation is certainly worth visiting in 2017!


Reformation, Finland, Reformation in Finland, Mikael Agricola, Martin Luther

Notes from One World

The anniversary of the Reformation is not a national, German or even a local event. Over the centuries, the Reformation has become a “citizen of the world”.

How the Reformer Mikael Agricola taught the Finns to read

They are his great-great-grandchildren: the Finnish authors who are the guests of honour at this year's Frankfurt Book Fair. Their ancestor is Mikael Agricola, Finland's Reformer. With his translation of the Bible, he also brought education to Finland.