Although we know very little about the spiritual life of the first people to live in Southern Savo, they left signs on rocks about how they saw the world. Finland’s largest and most important rock paintings are located in Astuvansalmi, Ristiina, where the oldest paintings appear to be approximately 5,000 years old.
It appears that the Savonians converted to Christianity at the turn of the 14th century. It is possible that this new religion had already spread to the region from both the east and the west. As a result of the Treaty of Nöteborg and the consequential developments, Southern Savo became part of Sweden and thus the occidental, Roman-Catholic Church. The Reformation, which had spread from Germany, changed the church of Sweden, and thus Finland and Southern Savo, into a Protestant, Lutheran Church in the 16th century.
The stone sacristy in Mikkeli and the chapel at Olavinlinna are the oldest stone buildings and spaces in Southern Savo. No stone churches were built in the region in the Middle Ages and the oldest wood churches have been destroyed. The oldest churches still standing are from the 18th century. Many of the churches in Southern Savo are architecturally significant.
Chandelier from the 17th century in the Stone Sacristy in Mikkeli
The Stone Sacristy in Mikkeli has an exhibition on the early ecclesiastical history of Southern Savo. The Stone Sacristy was probably built as part of a larger wooden church. While it is possible that it was already built during the Catholic period, it was definitely built by the end of the 16th century.
A chair from an old church at the Paris hall Museum
A wood church was built in Hirvesalmi in 1768. It burnt down in 1914. Fortunately, this skilfully made chair was saved as an example of the high quality of local joinery.
In the Middle Ages, the border between Sweden and Russia was also the border for the churches. On the Russian side, Greek Catholic (Orthodox) was the prevailing religion. There were Orthodox Christians on the Swedish side, as well. In Finland, the Orthodox religion was mainly found in the eastern parts of the country up until World War II, after which the situation changed once the evacuees from the territories lost to the Soviet Union were placed throughout Finland, as this group consisted of the majority of Finland’s Orthodox Christians. In this way, the Orthodox Church spread throughout Finland geographically, too.
After the most recent wars, numerous churches, prayer rooms, cemeteries and rectories were built for the Orthodox Christians in the towns they were placed in. Construction was the responsibility of the government. Some of the buildings built after the wars include the monastery buildings for the Orthodox Monastery of New Valamo in Papinniemi, Heinävesi, which has continually been expanded following the old Byzantine tradition of the Russian Church. Valamo has become the most significant cultural centre of the Orthodox Christians in Finland.