The Church of Alatornio
Kirkonmäentie 85, 95450 Tornio
Church life started in the area of the mouth of the Tornio river comparatively early. Its central place became the isle of Pirkkiö. The name Pirkkiö originates from the Birk-people, who used the island as their base for their trading and taxation travels to Lapland.
The first church of the island was built of wood and it is said to have existed already in the year 1316. The Christian parish, founded at the mouth of the Tornio river, which was rich in salmons, seems ti have interested the leaders of the Church from the very beginning. This is proved among others by the fact that Archbishop Nikolaus Hemming of Upsala and Bishop Hemming of Turku in the year 1346 undertook a troublesome travel ti the North to inaugurate the Tornio churchyard, to baptize the heathens of the new parish and above everything to agree about the distribution of the salmon-tenth part. Agreement was achieved regarding this last-mentioned only in the year 1374, when the border between the two bishoprics was drawn along with the brook-like raja-river between the Kemi- and Kaakama-rivers. According to the agreement the salomon-tenth part was then sent from the Kemi-river area to Turku and the salmontenth part of the Tornio-river area was sent to Upsala.
The Tornio parish reached both on the Finnish and on the Swedish side of the Tornio valley far to the north. To begin with it was a subordinate parish of Luleå and Belonged to the Härnösand bishopric. In the year 1530 king Gustaf Wasa then began to organize the ecclesiastic matters of this wide area. However, it was only in 1606 that the whole of the Tornio parish was divided up. Then the Särkilahti or Ylitornio parish separated from Tornion and the mouth of the Tornio river Alatornio was founded. Tornio, on the other hand, became a town-congregation and was granted town rights be the Privilege of king Gustaf II Adolf of the year 1621. Tornio was a subordinate congregation of Alatornion at least until the year 1896.
The organisation of the ecclesiastic matters in the Tornio-valley was cintinued in the 18th century. The northern part of Alatornio was made Karungi subordinate parish in 1745 and received its own parson in the year 1782. It was called Karl Gustav congregation. Subordinates to the Ylitornio parish were considered to be Hietaniemi, Pajala and Muonio chapels. Tornio-Lapland was divided into Jukkasjärvi, Enontekiö and Kautokeino congregations. All of the aforementioned belonged to the Härnösand bishopric, whereas Utsjoki, which had become an independt parish in teh year 1747, and Inari, which was connected with Utsjoki, belonged to the Turku bishopric.
The building period of the second church of the Birkala island is not exactly known. According to one source it was built in the 15th century, according to another in the year 1551. It was a late medievel stone-church, part of which is still left in the east-side cross-arm of the present church.
The initiator of the building work of the present Alatornio Church is to be considered having been Dean Gustaf Wilhelm Rydman (born 1755, dead 1809). Upon his suggestion the drawings of the church-builder Jacob Rijf were accepted and according to them the church then was built.
Jacob Rijf was born in teh year 1753 in the parish of Pietarsaari/Jakobstad as a son of the church-builder Tuomas Rijf. He studied at the painters´and sculptors' academy in connection with the Stockholm Castle for one year "civil architecture". Thereafter he was appointed official master builter for the district of Västerbotten in the year 1784. Thereafter he constructed in Sweden the churches of Bygdeå, Skellefteå and Luleå and in Finlandthe churches of Luoto, Puolanga, Himanga, Suomusssalmi, Kortesjärvi, Lehtimäki, Oravais, Kemi rural district and Vimpeli. Moreover he constructed bell-towers, pulpits, parsonages, bridges, windmills etc. His last church-building in Finland was Kuopio Church. Its building-work was interrupted by the Finnish War of 1808-1809. Church-builder Jacob Rij´s life enriched by many valuable achievements, ended in Sweden at Christmas of the year 1808.
The building work of the Alatornio Church was started in the year 1794. According to the fashion of that time it was made in the shape of a cross-church, and C.F.Adelcrantz´s new-classic Adolf Fredrik Church of Stockholm was serving as a pattern. The medieval church, built in the 1550ies, bacame the eastern cross-arm of the new church. The building of the church required intensive cooperation of the inhabitants of the whole of the wide-spread Alatornio parish. From the minutes of the church meetings we learn, for instance, how the supply of boards was divided up among the different, villages of the parish according to their number of inhabitants. Building supplies were thus brought from Ylivojakkala, Mattila, Kiviranta, Kaakama, Laivajärvi, Laivaniemi, Ala- and Yliraumo, Liedakkala, Seittenkari, Säivi, Kärbek, Vuono, Haparanda, Björkö and Puuluoto villages.
The citizens of Tornio brought about building materila from Stockholm. The biggest accounts were presented by magistrates Anders Rechhard and Joh.Pipping, the tradesmen Anders Lythraeus and Samuel Rechhard and others. The completion of the church is witnessed by a phrase printed by hand to the outside gable of the western cross-arm saying: Englarged under the reign on king Gustav IV Adolf in the year 1797. ("Utvidgad under Gustaf IV Adolphs regering år 1797").
The most important details of the church interior are also planned by Jacob Rijf. He designed and built the pulpit, which is one of the most beautiful parts of the church. According to his drawings the altar, too, was constructed.
The altarpiece "Jesus on the Cross" was made by the painter Karl Strömbeck in the year 1820. Artist Strömbeck made his studies at the Stockholm Academy of Arts and he was there awarded a medal for portrait drawing in the year 1816.
The organ, which has 9 registers, was procured already for the second church of Alatornio in the year 1760. As organ builders are mentioned Gren & Stråhle of Stockholm. The organ was installed in the present church in the year 1798.
The Communion vessels are made by goldsmiths from Tornio and Haparanda. A goldsmith-guild was founded in Tornio in the middle of the 18th century. The Tornio goldsmiths´works were known for their originality. The oldest wine-jug of Alatornio church is of the year 1707. The most important goldsmiths were Nils Frantzleben, Jonas Bäckman, J.O. Molnberg and N.P. Forsberg.
There are two church-bells, one of them was procured already in the year 1724. It was cast anew by Gerh. Meijer in Stockholm in 1747. The smaller church-bell was cast by Gerhard Horner in Stockholm in the year 1824.
The gravestone of Johannes Wargius is in the eastern cross-arm. He was a son of Martinus Wargius, parson of Alatornion (1624-1639).
The gravestone belonging to the Forbus family is not be found in the western cross-arm. Henrik Forbus, whose memorial tablet is below the pulpit of the church, was parson of Alatornio during the years 1706-1731, and he died as parson of Liminga parish in 1737.
The oldest chandelier is the last one in the northern cross-arm. It is a gift of Henrik Ericksson and his wife Brita Isacsdaughter in the year 1687. Henric Ericksson had also the painting on the ceiling, which is the second when seen from the altar, of the Tornion Church made.
The oldest chasuble is of the year 1766 and the newest of the year 1850. They are richly decorated with silver ribbons and lace work.
The graves of the Castrén family are on the south-side of the church-building. Several members of this family have been parsons of Alatornio. Others among them were working as representatives of the communal and economic life of Alatornio.
The grave of the artist Eetu Isto (1865-1905) from Alatornio is one the south-side of the church. He became famous for his painting "Attack". The monument is erected by the Finnish Club of Oulu in the year 1936.
On the north side of the main entrance there is the family vault of Municipal Counsellor Antti Junes (1874-1963). Antti Junes worked as member of the communal board, as representative in the Parliament several times and as minister.
On the north-side of the church-building there is a monument in honour of the about 2000 soldiers who died due to privations during the Finnish War in the Alatornion area. It was erected by the Commission for soldier grave monuments of the 1808-1809 years´War in the year 1962.
The tomb of heroes of the 1918 year´s War is one the northern side of the church. The relief of thr monument shows a dying solider. It was carved by Suomen Graniitti in Tampere. This monument was inaugurated in the year 1921.
The area of the tomb of heroes of the years 1939-1944 was planned by Professor Yrjö Lindegren and after his death by Proferssor Aulis Blomstedt. The sculptor Kauko Räike carded the gravemonument, which shows an angel protecting the growing life. This monument was inaugurated in the year 1959.
The last thorough repair and restoration of the church was carried out through the care of the Archeological Remains Association in the years 1958-1959. The pertinent supervision of the work was taken care of by the State Archeologist Clewe and the building curator Th. Lindqvist. The practical work was effected by the painter of docorations Fjalar Hermansson and the artist Kauko Välke. The repair and restoration was made with such carefilness that the church now can receive also pretentious visitors.
The Alatornio Church is situated at one end of the parish. This was caused by historical events of the border country. When after the edn of Finnish War of the years 1808-1809, the peace treaty of Hamina/Fredrikshamn was concluded, Tornio river became the border between the states of Sweden and Finland. The church which had been situated in the middle of the formerly wide Alatornion parish, now is at the east of the Tornion river. In the same way the border between the two states, which then was drawn along with the Tornio valley, divided the church parishes and new churches had to be built on both sides of the border where they were lacking.