Wilderness Church Pielpajärvi – Hike to the Sámi Church near Inari

Wilderness Church Pielpajärvi - Hike Inari
Wilderness Church Pielpajärvi - Hike to the Sámi Church near Inari

Finland. What's the story behind the lonely church in the wilderness on Lake Pielpajärvi? Well, it wasn't quite as lonely here as it is today. The church was located in the middle of the winter settlement of the Inari Sámi. The Sámi gathered here and spent the cold, dark winter months. They were joined by traders and tax collectors...and occasionally a priest. The Wilderness Church on Lake Pielpajärvi near Inari is one of the oldest buildings in northern Lapland, beautifully situated and accessible via a 9 km hike.

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The Hike to Wilderness Church Inari at a Glance

  • Length: approx. 9 kilometers there and back
  • Marked throughout with orange wooden stakes
  • Largely flat terrain
  • Paths interspersed with roots and stones; swampy areas bridged with wooden planks
  • Parking lot and church with dry toilet
  • Take mosquito spray with you!

A small Church with a long History

After the Christian faith spread in the Inari region in the 16th century, a church was built in the winter village of the Inari Sami in the middle of the 17th century. The church was completed in 1647, but with a floor plan of 6.8 m x 5.5 m, it was too small from the start. It was also difficult to find a priest who wanted to preach in this remote location. As a result, the priest only appeared once or twice a year and the service lasted one to one and a half weeks in winter. In summer, on the other hand, it was only two to three days. During this time, judgments were also pronounced and children were taught. Many old traditions disappeared with the Christian mission. Some shamans were executed for witchcraft.

Wilderness Church Pielpajärvi – Sámi Kirche bei Inari von innen
Wilderness Church Pielpajärvi – Sámi Kirche bei Inari von innen

One of the oldest Buildings in Northern Lapland

Due to its infrequent use, the small church was neglected and fell into disrepair. A new church was built. The current church was completed in 1760, making it one of the oldest buildings in northern Lapland. In the first half of the 19th century, there was also a rectory and a bailiff's house as well as several market stalls and church parlors. In 1837, the church was even given its own priest by decree of the Tsar. He was obliged to hold a service every second Sunday and to use the Sami language.

Wilderness Church Pielpajärvi – Sámi Kirche bei Inari von außen
Unlike other old churches, Wilderness Church does not have a cemetery next to it. The dead were buried on two burial islands in Lake Inari.

From the middle of the 19th century, however, the buildings were barely maintained and repaired. In 1888, a new church was finally completed in the newly developed settlement of Inari and the Wildmark Church on Lake Pielpajärvi was no longer used. It was only after the new church in Inari was destroyed during the Winter War in 1940 that the wilderness church was visited again. Since then, services have been held here every year at Midsummer and Easter. The Wilderness Church near Inari is also a popular venue for weddings.

Hike from Inari to the old Wilderness Church

In summer, the church can be reached via a 9 km hike (there and back). The starting point is the Sarviniementie parking lot, which is about 3 km northeast of the famous Siida Museum Inari.

The trail first leads through pine forest and later past birch-lined lakes. There are no gradients worth mentioning. However, the path is crisscrossed with stones and roots, making progress a little slower. Swampy areas are bridged by boardwalks. The trail is marked throughout and easy to find.

In summer, the walk is particularly beautiful in the evening when the light is a little softer.

The church is always open to visitors. Please make sure to close the doors after your visit to minimize the effects of the weather. There is a barbecue area, picnic shelters, a dry toilet and a small hut in the square by the lake in front of the church.

In contrast to most other Sámi groups, the Inari Sámi did not historically engage in large-scale reindeer husbandry. Instead, the Inari-Sámi culture was characterized by fishing and hunting. Fishing became less important because Lake Inari was overfished in the 20th century. Finnish forest reindeer were the most important game for hunting, but their numbers declined in the 18th century. Nevertheless, I encountered a reindeer on the road on my way to the parking lot and there are two reindeer fences to cross during the hike.

There are information boards along the way. On the way there, spiritual texts adapted to the eight seasons are intended to encourage you to reflect. On the way back, there is information about the surrounding nature on the back of the boards.

The hike to Wilderness Church Inari can be shortened to 2.6 km (one way) by boat. The excursion boats on Lake Inari will drop you off at Pielpavuono Bay on request. In winter, the church can be reached by ski and snowmobile.

Wilderness Church Pielpajärvi Inari - Natur
Wilderness Church Pielpajärvi Inari - Natur

Book recommendations for Finland

You want to know where the journey goes? Then I can recommend these books*.

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Recommendations for further Reading

Do you love Scandinavia as much as I do? Do you fancy Norway? Then you might be interested in my articles about a Winter in Tromsø - the Gateway to the Arctic or about the Lofoten and Vesterålen - Winter Highlights.

Winter in Tromsø - das Tor zur Arktis
Winter in Tromsø - the Gateway to the Arctic
Lofoten und Vesterålen - Highlights im Winter
Lofoten and Vesterålen - Winter Highlights


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