The church of Ii
The parish of Ii was established between 1340 and 1374. Originally the parish covered an extensive geographical area, ranging from Simo in the north to Liminka in the south. Between 1300 and 1650 Ii was raided and burned down by the enemy numerous times. Whenever this happened, the church was burned down too as a rule, and the church bells were stolen, unless people had managed hide them away. We have no details from these early days about the exact times when the churches were built or burned down.
Ii has had a total of eight churches, including the current one, in addition to nine locations around the parish where sermons where delivered.
The first church in Ii is thought to have been situated on the northern side of the riverbank between the Merikoski and Huiskari (present-day Uiskari) rapids. Near the site is a pond known as Bell Pond. According to oral tradition, a church bell was once hidden there to keep it from the enemy.
The second church was on Illinsaari island. As the raids continued, the church was built on the island to protect it from the enemy. The exact times when this church was built or burned down are not known either. Illinsaari island is situated to the east of the present-day Ii bridges.
The third church was located on the same island, towards its south end. In 1893, when a field was ploughed in the area, a pewter Communion chalice - made in Germany in the 14th century - was unearthed, buried about 30 cm deep in the ground.
The fourth church was on Kirkkosaari island, opposite the current church. As the raids continued, unabated, and the enemy burned down everything they could lay their hands on, time after time, the church was built on the wooded island, away from the area of regular inhabitation. In the summer of 1582 the church was burned down, and the bells were taken away by the enemy.
The fifth church was built on the same place as the previous one, after the king had granted 20 barrels of grain from the state warehouse to cover some of the building expenses. The church was completed in 1586. However, once more the people of Ii weren’t allowed to enjoy their new church or their new homes for very long. On St. Bartholomew’s Sunday in 1589 enemy troops arrived in Ii once more. The church and the whole county were burned down to ground. According to a different source, the fifth church of Ii parish was situated in the central part of the old harbour (Vanha-Hamina), near the current church.
The sixth church was completed in 1620. As things were already a bit more peaceful at this point, the church was built on mainland, on the spot where the current church is located. It was named St. Margaret’s Church (Pyhän Margareetan kirkko). This church was burned down to the foundation after having been struck by lightning on 12 June 1693. Ninety-four parishioners, buried in a vault under the church floor, were also burned. Not even the church bells could be saved in time.
The seventh church was built in the same place as the previous one, and it was inaugurated in the autumn of 1695. It was given the name St. Laurentius Church (Pyhän Laurentinuksen kirkko). This church was able to serve the people of Ii for 245 years, until it was burned down by a ball lightning on the morning of St. Bartholomew’s Sunday in 1942. The church bell and most of the movables were destroyed as well. Only the altar cloth, the alms box in the vestibule, a beautiful chandelier in the front part of the church and the chasubles could be saved from the fire. The foundation of the church was full of burial vaults where 284 corpses were buried, among them 12 clergymen of Ii parish. Their bodies – along with the coffins that had still been shown to be wholly unspoiled during the renovation of the church in 1936 – were burned down with the church.
Because of the war, Ii had no church for 8 years. The current church – the eighth in succession – was built between 1949 and 1950, and inaugurated on 18 June 1950. The church was designed by the architects Stranberg and Hytönen. The church has 452 seats downstairs and 70 upstairs. The pipe organ was manufactured by the pipe organ factory in Kangasala, and has 18 stops and 3 transmissions. The carvings on the pulpit are by Oskari Jauhiainen, and depict the symbols of the evangelists and the Christ monogram. The light fixtures were designed by the artist Liisa Johansson von Pappel. The church bells were made by OY Lokomo in Tampere.
The church was thoroughly renovated between 1993 and 1995, at what time – among other things – the ringing of the church bells was automated and all church textiles were replaced by new ones made by local craftspeople. The so-called votive ship (from the Latin votivus, promised to God) is a typical feature of churches in coastal parishes. The history of votive ships dates back all the way to the Middle Ages. Ii church got its ship from the local heritage association in the beginning of the 1990s.
The message of the altar painting
The altar painting is by the artist Eero Nelimarkka. It depicts Jesus teaching people from a ship.
”And he began again to teach by the sea side: and there was gathered unto him a great multitude, so that he entered into a ship, and sat in the sea; and the whole multitude was by the sea on the land.” Mark 4:1
The word of God, alive and powerful, gathers a multitude of listeners from all walks of life. We can recognise the listeners depicted in the altar painting among today’s church-goers. On the right we see a woman whose face is radiant with joy; there is an old man in prayer, and a learned man, deep in thought. On the left there are women who are preoccupied with the worries of everyday life. Above all this, Jesus raises his hands in blessing.
The statue of Pekka Vesainen
Pekka Vesainen, a farm-owner and guerrilla chieftain from Ii, was born in the village of Kiiminki (present-day Ylikiiminki) in Ii county around 1550, and he died in 1620. Towards the end of the year 1500, Vesainen lead raids that Ostrobothnians made to Russian Karelia to avenge raids they had endured earlier. Above all, he was famous for defending his home area against the numerous raids made by the Russians.
To commemorate Vesainen, the people of Ii raised a statue on the eastern side of the church. The statue is made by Kalervo Kallio, and portrays a burly farmer dressed in the war uniform of his day. The statue was completed in 1940, but wasn’t put in place until the church was completed in 1950.