Petäjävesi Old Church

Petäjävesi Old Church

Petäjävesi Old Church, in central Finland, was built of logs between 1763 and 1765. This Lutheran country church is a typical example of an architectural tradition that is unique to eastern.
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Scandinavia. It combines the Renaissance conception of a centrally planned church with older forms deriving from Gothic groin vaults.

Outstanding Universal Value

Brief synthesis

Built for a small Lutheran parish in central Finland, Petäjävesi Old Church is located on a peninsula at Lake Solikkojärvi and is surrounded by an agricultural landscape with lakes and forests, typical of the region.

Construction of this wooden church was led by a local master builder, Jaakko Leppänen. The bell tower was added to the western part of the church in 1821 by the master’s grandson, Erkki Leppänen.

Petäjävesi Old Church is representative of the architectural tradition of wooden churches in northern Europe. The Old Church is a unique example of traditional log construction techniques applied by the local peasant population in northern coniferous forest areas. European architectural trends, which have influenced the external form and layout of the church, have been masterfully applied to traditional log construction.

The adaption of forms and techniques of varied provenance makes this church a multi-layered landmark and an outstanding example of Nordic church architecture. The church is built entirely of pine wood, worked in a constructive and economical manner.

The layout and interior of the church, with intricate perspectives, vaulting and a central cupola, combines the influences of Renaissance, Baroque and Gothic styles with the Finnish vernacular tradition of log construction. The steepness of the pitched roof recalls the Gothic tradition. The interior’s hand-carved log surfaces with their silky patina and the silvery sheen on the seasoned walls lend the hall its unique atmosphere, which is further enhanced by the slightly irregular placement of the floor beams and pews. The distinctive features of the interior are the elaborately carved pulpit, pews, chandeliers, and galleries with balustrades, which are entirely the work of local craftsmen and artists.

In 1879, a new church was built on the other side of the strait and the Old Church went out of use. Repairs, restoration and conservation works started in the 1920s when the historical and architectural value of the Old Church was recognized. Today, the churchyard is still in use, while the church is used only in the summer.

Criterion (iv): Petäjävesi Old Church is an outstanding example of the architectural tradition of wooden churches in northern Europe.


Petäjävesi Old Church includes all key elements necessary to express its Outstanding Universal Value, such as the graveyard surrounded by a fence and the nearby landscape setting, fields and lakeside. The integrity of the wider agricultural landscape was affected by the construction of a highway to the south of the church in the 1960s.

The buffer zone of Petäjävesi Old Church includes the entire agricultural landscape surrounding the church as well as the lakeside. Climate change might threaten the integrity of the property. 


In terms of form, construction and materials, Petäjävesi Old Church truthfully expresses the essence and spirit of the wooden church building traditions of northern Europe. The church is well preserved due to the fact that it was abandoned in the late 19th century, as the new parish church was built, and did not suffer from major alterations such as the installation of heating systems. The church is therefore used only during the summer season. Traditional techniques and materials have been used in previous and recent conservation works, and interventions have been kept to a minimum in order to preserve the tangible values and the spirit of the church. The graveyard surrounding the church, which dates back to the 18th century, is still in use. 

Protection and management requirements

The property and its buffer zone are legally protected under national legislation and are managed by a management board headed by the Petäjävesi Old Church Trust. The church is owned by the local parish. Long and short term operations are guided by a Management Plan.

Conservation works are carried out using traditional materials and craftsmanship. A specific forest has been designated to guarantee the supply of high-quality wood. The conservation philosophy is to do minimum intervention and only when necessary.

Climate change causing increasingly warm and humid autumns and winters, might threaten the property’s wooden constructions on a long term basis. As part of the overall management system, special attention is paid to documentation and follow-up of the alterations caused by weather conditions.

Fire safety measures have been taken by installing a fire alarm, a pump station, as well as an automatic extinguishing system.

Wear to the wooden floors, caused by increased numbers of visitors, has been addressed by the use of slippers during visits.

Unesco World Heritage list