Highlights from Tampere

Three quick-ish things from my Tampere trip today:

St. Michael’s Church (Messukylä)


Messukylä’s old medieval church is one of the later Finnish stone churches, built probably around 1510–1530 over the course of a couple of building seasons to replace an earlier wooden church in the area. It went through some extensive renovations at the end of the 18th century but was abandoned in 1879 when a new church nearby was consecrated.

Messukylä medieval church floor plan
Church floor plan. Hiekkanen (2007), p. 238

The old Messukylä church has a typical Finnish “skewed cross” plan, with the main entrance (the “weapon room”) on the southern side of the church, the choir and altar in the east and the sacristy on the north side of the church. There is an original western entrance, which now has attached to it a wooden vestibule dating from the late 18th century renovations (this is not called a “weapon room”, but it’s essentially the modern equivalent)[1].

The church still houses several 15th century wooden sculptures, including a crucifix, which predate the stone church. The paintings on the church walls date from the 17th century and have been badly damaged — we were told this was largely caused by water running down the walls as the roof was being replaced in the 18th century renovations.

Altar with 15th century wooden crucifix. As part of the 18th century renovations the church roof was raised by adding beams of wood between the stone walls and the new roof vaulting.


[1] The “weapon room” was a (usually windowless) entrance space to the church. Its name refers to the habit of leaving weapons in the vestibule when entering the church, but Markus Hiekkanen in his work on Finnish stone churches emphasises the space’s religious significance: he sees it as a place of quieting down when entering the sacred space. The vestibule was also used in parts of seremonies, such as baptisms and weddings.


Hiekkanen, Markus. Suomen Keskiajan Kivikirkot. Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 2007.

Bunny therapy

In between churches we stopped by a bunny cafe — an eccentricly charming mix of a cafe, man cave, print shop, and animal-assisted therapy centre. The cafe had a seperate room for “bunny therapy”, where customers could (for c. 20 minutes) enjoy the company of a group of laid-back, floppy-eared rabbits. The idea of animals bringing joy to man as companions (pets) is not a modern one, but goes back to the Middle Ages and beyond. Dogs and cats were long-time companion animals by the time of the medieval period, but many more species were kept as pets — these included exotic animals such as monkeys(!), and also (to my surprise) rabbits. In Medieval Pets (Boydell Press, 2012) Kathleen Walker-Meikle writes that rabbits were not only farmed for meat, but that nuns in particular kept rabbits as pets (p. 14), though these and other “frivolous and distracting creatures” kept in nunneries were condemned by some members of the clergy (p. 70).

Titian: The Madonna of the Rabbit (c. 1530). Admittedly not quite medieval, but more fitting illustration here than the murderous rabbits of medieval marginalia.

Tampere Cathedral

I confess to having been entirely ignorant of the artistic treasure-trove that is the Tampere Cathedral, featuring several frescoes and stained glass windows by the wonderful Finnish symbolist Hugo Simberg and a stunning altar painting by symbolist Magnus Enckell. Hugo Simberg is said to have drawn inspiration from medieval art — particularly his The Garden of Death has strong Danse Macabre -echoes.

Hugo Simberg: The Garden of Death, fresco (1906)
Magnus Enckell: Resurrection

Further reading: Simo Holopainen, Simbergin ja Enckellin teokset.

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