Michael Agricola was Finland's leading Protestant reformer. He was born in Pernaja in 1509 as Mikael Olavinpoika (son of Olavi). His father was a farmer and sent Agricola to the Latin school in Vyborg (Finnish: Viipuri), where he came into contact with the ideas of Humanism and the Reformation at a very young age. Agricola became secretary to the Bishop in Turku after being ordained as a priest in 1528.
Declared objective: Reformation in Finland
He then lived in Martin Luther's home from 1536 to 1539, while studying at the University of Wittenberg. His instructors there included Luther, Philipp Melanchthon, and Johannes Bugenhagen. He began to refer to himself as ‘Agricola’ at this time; he derived the name from the Latin word for ‘farmer’. He returned to Turku, strongly influenced by the ideas of Germany’s Protestant reformers. Initially, he was a canon in the cathedral chapter and director of its Latin school. Agricola was named successor to Bishop Martinus Skytte after his death in 1550; this decision was not confirmed by the Pope.
At this point, he was presumably already married to Birgitta Olavintytär. Their only son, Christian, was born on December 11, 1550. As bishop, Agricola continued to energetically establish the Reformation in Finland. His numerous theological writings played a major part in these efforts. Agricola had already written his first and most important work between 1537 and 1543: the ABC-Kiria (ABC-Book) was based on the catechism of Luther and Melanchthon. This collection of essential Christian texts was the first book to be published in the Finnish language. Agricola shaped this language more than any other individual – particularly through his rush translation of the Bible. To the present day, he is recognised as the father of Finnish as a written language.
On a diplomatic mission
In addition to his influence as educator, bishop, and Protestant reformer, Agricola was also an important diplomat. Gustav Vasa (Gustav I), King of Sweden, sent him on multiple diplomatic missions. Agricola was a member of the Swedish delegation to the court of Ivan the Terrible in 1557 and took part in the peace negotiations between Sweden and Russia. Agricola died during the return journey on April 9, 1557.
He is buried in the Cathedral of Vyborg. The great Protestant reformer is honoured on the ninth of April every year on the ‘Day of the Finnish Language’, which is also known as 'Michael Agricola Day’.