Lapland
In My Heart

Lars Levi Laestadius had a tremendous effect
on Sami society


Impact on society

Lars Levi Laestadius had an enormous impact on Sami society and religous practices, and is the founder of the Laestadian revival movement. Some think that without him the Sami would probably have perished. The liquor trade was pushing Sami society towards financial disaster, and social destruction was increasing. But the impact of this revival also was felt among other northern people.

laestadius

Youth

He was born in a very poor home at Jäkkvik in Sweden. In his childhood he experienced the negative effects of alchol abuse because his father abused it.

From his half brother, Carl Erik Laestadius, Lars Levi learnt about flowers and other plants. Botany became an important pastime in his youth. The botany also took much of his time when a young college student. During his studies at the University of Uppsala, he continued to spend time on botany.

He became an assistant and a drawer for a professor, and designed posters for an important work on the flora of northern Scandinavia. However, Laestadius decided to become a priest rather than a botanist. But he kept his interest in the Lapland flora.

Ordained

He was ordained and appointed a deacon in Arjeplog in 1825. Simultaneously he also got a job as a missionary in Pite Lapp area. The following year he moved and became parish priest at Karesuando.

There he met Brita Cajsa Alstadius, a childhood friend from Kvikkjok. She became his wife in 1827. Residents of Karesuando were Finnish settlers or Sami reindeer-breeders. Most of these people were poor and lived under tough conditions.

The church language was Finnish. The Sami language was used now and then. Just a few knew Swedish. Laestadius learned to speak all three languages. The small community was characterized by poverty. Liquor had become a common commodity in Lapland. You could buy it everywhere. Travelling liquor dealers visited the Sami of Lapland on a regular basis. Laestadius had a tough start as a priest. Only a few attended church. He felt that he didn't reach their hearts. He came to believe that his belief was dead.

Maria of Lapland

Then in 1843 he wrote a work on the intoxication of the world and the infectious illness of the soul. Here he presents his thoughts about the terrible situation in contemporary Lapland society. In January 1844, Laestadius the Åsele Lapp area.

Karesuando Church altarpiece There he met the Sami girl Milla Clemensdotter. Laestadius later called her "Lappmarkens Maria". This meeting was of great importance for him. Maria had experienced what he described as the order of grace.

This Maria also had an impact on Lapland society. No wonder she is even pictured in alterpieces of both Karesuando and Gällivare churches together with Laestadius! Through her he experienced what a living faith is, and how to believe in the forgiveness of sins.

More confidence

After this, Laestadius showed more confidence in his sermons. The sermons got a new and totally different language that gave a tremendous new force. He spoke about prostitutes and thieves. And he used strong words to characterize and chastise many in the congregation. In 1844 he experienced the first emotional outbursts in the congregation.
(Photo: Olav E. Johansen)

Revival

In 1849 Laestadius moved to Pajala, which became another center for the Laestadian revival movement. The speeches were still filled with vivid images that people could recognize themselves in. They were written down and communicated throughout northern Scandinavia, where they were read aloud and again duplicated.

According to Laestadius the goal of the Christian should be to get a living faith, which he had experience after meeting with the Lapp girl Maria. No one could achieve salvation through a dead faith. Through his powerful sermons, with words and a figurative language that everyone understood, he wanted to awaken people from the spiritual dormancy he believed they were in. So the sermon had to be like a powerful thunder. In particular, he preached against the large alcohol consumption. Brandy, he called the piss of the devil.

Strong language

He believed that man was enticed and exploited through the alcohol. He also thought that those who sold liquor had to convert, becuase they were the ones who exploited the people through this heinous practice.

When the congregation, where even reindeer thieves and drinkers were a part, was stirred up from their spiritual sleep, they would hear of the good news - the gospel. You should believe in the forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus Christ. Even a reindeer thief or a drunkard could achieve salvation if they improved and regretted of their past evil practices.

Death

Laestadius died 21 Febr 1861, and was buried at the cemetery of Pajala. A monument has been erected here in memory of his work.

The Kautokeino Upheaval

At times the revival had fanatical overtones. On 8 November 1852 a number of Sami in Kautokeino in Norway wanted to stop the liquor trade by force. They killed both the county sheriff and the trader. The priest and several other Sami and Norwegians were whipped and mistreated.

But the rebels were overpowered by other Sami and imprisoned. Two years later, two of the rebel leaders were executed. Fourteen others got life sentences and their possessions were sold at auction.

Researchers have discussed what actually caused the uprising. Was it revenge or religious delusion? Or was it a social protest? Did Laestadianism in become revolutionary because of tough resistance to the revival by the priests? We know that the many injustices in contemporary society gave many reasons to protest.

Part of the church

Since the 19th century, Laestadianism has been a well-known religious movement in northern Sweden, Finland and Norway. Today it can be characterised as a conservative movement that is still part of the Lutheran Church in these countries, despite being a strong critic of many phenomena of todays churches.

Read more about Lars Levi Laestadius in this biography.

Read also about different aspects of religion in Lapland.

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