Lapland
In My Heart

Loppa island -
the pearl of the Finnmark coast

This Loppa island article is written by
Jorgen Dahl (head of the Finnmark department of the Society for the Preservation of Norwegian Ancient Monuments (Fortidsminneforeningen)

Loppa island

Loppa island is called "the pearl of the Finnmark coast".

On the last Saturday in August the Finnmark department of the Society for the Preservation of Norwegian Ancient Monuments (Fortidsminneforeningen) arranged a cultural tour of the Loppa island (see map), Finnmark's most famous island, "the pearl in the ocean". The Indian summer weather and a calm sea contributed to a very interesting meeting between the past and the present for the 40 participants who came from all over the county.

Loppa �y

Old remains

The island is in Loppa municipality. In earlier times the Loppa island had a central location on the coast of Finnmark, in fact it was one of the most important places. We find evidence of settlements at many different levels on the Loppa island. The remains of settlements and graves from the Stone Age is localized at the beach embankment just north of Mevær. We also find remains of a longhouse from the Iron Age. The farm hill at Mev�r is from the Middle Ages and reveals that many families lived there in the 1500s.

The most impressive memories of the Middle Ages is at the northern part of the island, at Yttervær. As in Mevær, roads have been cut through the farm mounds that testify about settlement as early as the 1100-1200's. There has been a church here, perhaps as early as the 1300s. The remains of the cemetery and the church can still be observed.

Furthest south we find the island's present main village, Loppavær or Loppa village, with memories from the Middle Ages, and also from the Stone Age and Viking Age. At the Rossmål bay, is a large burial heap from the Stone Age. Further east, during road construction in the 1960s, a woman's grave from the Viking era was found.

Fortidsminneforeningen trip In the Loppavær there are remains of a cemetery that must have been adjacent to an old church back in 1698. This church can be seen in one of the illustrations of the district governor, Hans Lilienskiold's book, the "Speculum Boreale." When the village Yttervær, for reasons unknown, died out in the 1700s, a large cross church was built in 1747. Loppa continued to grow. But like everything else in Western Finnmark, this beautiful building was burnt down by the Germans in October 1944.

Today's church is built where the priest's house was before the war, on an old farm from the Middle Ages! Just west of Loppa village we find the youngest cemetery still in use That cemetery tells about the recent history. It is strange that that this small, relatively barren island, only 7,5 miles long, in the late Middle Ages had 3-4 larger settlements and 2 churches.

Power center

The Loppa community has fared well both at the times of trade was free and during the monopoly periods when the power was concentrated far away from this small island. There was no good harbors here either, but the closeness to the resources of the sea was very important, in addition to a strategic location as to the the sail ship traffic along the coast of Finnmark.

Throughout history, the Loppa island played a central role as a trading center and power center in the region. The island was prosperous and that was shown through large houses, church, post office, police, school and many warehouses. Many of the families that lived here has meant a lot to the development of the whole municipality.

Many recognize family names such as Gamst, Buch, Ulich and Solberg, to name a few. After the first municipal board meeting in 1839, all succeding mayors were from Loppa island until 1863. The island also was the administrtive center of the municipality. Often the priest or the trading manager was elected to this important office. Later, the mayors came either from Sandland or Bergsfjord, which then served as municipal centers, until Øksfjord became the center of Loppa municipality in 1964.

About Loppa municipality

Today, the community center of the Loppa municipality is Øksfjord, on the mainland. (See map) On the Vestre-quay in Øksfjord the participants got an interesting introduction to various aspects of the municipal challenges.

The municipality business advisor Terje K. Haugen gave the participants an interesting backdrop for the trip to the Loppa island with its long and very interesting history. Even the name tells about a special island with a large and almost magical appeal. So big and so magical that it has given its name to the entire municipality. Loppa has its name from the old Norse 'loptr' = mirage. The participants of the trip also experienced the mirage as they approached the island on board a high-speed boat in calm weather.

On the trip we made a side trip to Bergsfjord to study this interesting, small industrial place, which was also the administrative center of Loppa municipality for a period. A road where landslides can occur, connects the villages of South Tverrfjord and Sandland. From both places new participants joined the group.

Knowledge

On the trip where also many knowledgeable people who willingly shared with us what they knew about the landscape we went through. Historian and writer, Arvid Petterson from Porsanger, talked about the history of the Loppa island. In addition, the retired principal, Annfrid Slettvold from South Tverrfjord, told interesting things about the churches on the island. The retired assistant professor from the Finnmark University College, Odd Mathis Hætta, actually from Kautokeino, conveyed the exciting Stone Age history of the island. Others also contributed with their knowledge.

All in all, this was a journey through several thousand years, from the Stone Age, Iron Age and Middle Ages to the present time. In ancient times the island had a strategic location at a time when the sea was the main transportation and trading route. Russian traders and fishermen, also called Pomors, were here long ago, not to buy or trade with fish, but to fish themselves.

"Queen's grave"

The so-called "Queen's grave" from the Viking era contained objects that show that she must have been an influential woman, with contacts all the way down to the Black Sea region. Bronze buckles, glass beads, whale bone plate and several artifacts, including iron, were found here. But she was not a real queen.

Oil production

At the Rossmoll bay one can see several rock pits that where used to make whale oil from killer whales and walruses. Therefore it was not unnatural that Sven Foyn from Tønsberg in the early 1900's built his last oil extraction factory in Finnmark just here. Apart from shale production a few decades after the war, fisheries has been the main occupation at the Loppa island.

The church village

Loppa church altarpiece At Loppavær, today's church village, we find the youngest and second youngest cemetery of the island. At the second youngest we can still see the outlines of the graves as well as many old iron crosses. The remains of the oldest cemetery is at the northern part of the island at Yttervær. At the foundation walls of the cross church, which can be seen in the front cover picture, Annfrid Slettvold (see picture) told about this magnificent church which was built in 1747.

For such a small place like Loppa Island, this church was quite large with its approx. 220 seats. This fact tells something about the importance of Loppa island as a church and commercial center. Probably this was the only church in the parish at the time and therefore well attended from other places during church services. As mentioned, the cross church was burnt in the autumn of 1944.

Annfrid also told about how the village people, with the German commander's help, rescued the furniture and other movable property before the church was consumed by fire. The furniture comes from both from the cross church and the oldest church at Yttervær. Much of this is found today in the new church that was built in 1953.

If we take a look at the newest cemetery, we can really read the recent history of the Loppa village. Among other things, we find a Russian Orthodox grave from 1905 here, where a 13-year-old Russian boy lies. The boy may have been with his father, who led a Pomor ship. A Russian Orthodox priest blessed the grave some years back. He had with him an icon that today hangs in the new church.

Asheim grave at Loppa island At the newest cemetery, we also find the tomb of the priest Modolf Wergeland Asheim, who died on the island in 1942 after having worked here for 15 years. He has a special place in the hearts of the Loppa people, which the beautiful monument testifies. He was the last priest who has lived on the Loppa island, and one of the few priests who died in Finnmark and is buried here.


Arvid Petterson at Asheim grave.



"Loppa Manor"

Loppa hovedg�rd During the walk through the village we passed "Loppa Manor" which is exactly where the house of the village owner was before the war. When the group passes the "manor", a vigorous retiree, a former citizen of Alta, comes out on the porch to greet the wanderers. It is Svein William Bertheussen, one of the few island residents, who has decided to dedicate his old age to take care of the big houses and property for posterity. It is also to Bertheussen's credit that the remains of the cross church foundation is exposed and easily accessible.

He invited the group on a tour of the family "museum" in the old fish processing building with its stockfish attic. At the first floor they have gathered many objects and images from the Loppa island. The collection gives a good picture, among other things, of the life of the island merchants through the ages. The second floor is devoted to the family's own eventful life.

Svein Bertheussen Svein Bertheussen has created a model of the old cruciform church from 1747 from specifications and drawings that he has received from the Directorate for Cultural Heritage. He has completed the exterior. Now remains the building of the interior fixtures. A challenging task that should also be of interest to others.

Finally, the Finnmark Department of the Fortidsminneforeningen wants to thank everyone for a great trip to Loppa island. Extra thanks to those who, with their information and comments, photos and maps, contributed to make this a very special experience. Thanks also to Erna Fjelldahl and Olav E. Johansen, who let us use their articles and images, and Tonny Nilsen for his photos from the trip.

Photos:
The first photo: Old postcard - unknown photographer.
All other photos: Erna Fjelldahl and Olav E. Johansen

Read more about Loppa and Loppa island.


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