Marko Lamberg
Department of History and Ethnology
Åbo Akademi University, Turku


Due to the paucity of literary sources, we do not know for sure if Finland was visited by the Black Death. Finland remained one of the most sparsely populated as well as one of the most agrarian areas of medieval Europe. From the point of view of most Western Europeans, Finland and its inhabitants were situated in a periphery, far away from cultural centres and behind a sea which lied frozen several months every winter.

Nevertheless, the incorporation of Finland into the Swedish realm from the twelfth century onwards started the historical and literary era in Finland and launched among other things a process which turned Turku, a market place in the south-western part of the Finnish peninsula, to an officially recognised town with clear urban features. Already in the thirteenth century Turku was a multicultural town thanks to immigration from Swedish- and German-speaking areas. Its multicultural nature is also revealed in its double naming: in Swedish it was called Åbo, a ‘dwelling along a river’, and that gave it its equivalent in Latin and German: Aboa.

What made Turku the most important centre in Finland was its cathedral: all the officially Catholic areas of Finland were led by the Bishop of Turku. In the Finnish context, Turku functioned as the main port, through which the Latin literary culture could make its entrance. This was aided further by the cathedral school of Turku, where the domestic clergy was educated in order to then serve in Finnish parishes, as well as the founding of Dominican convents, like one in Turku in 1249. The Chapter of Turku also produced literature of its own, at least liturgical, hagiographical and sermon texts. The most notable texts deal with the mythical first bishop of Finland, Saint Henry, who was allegedly murdered by a heathen Finn.

Finns had also vivid orally transmitted folklore dating back to prehistoric times. They share many works or themes with their linguistic relatives in Eastern Europe which is a proof for the early origin of these tales. A clearly medieval origin can be found in Annikaisen virsi (‘Annikainen’s Chant’), a song where a young maiden tells a warning tale about her relationship with a German merchant.

The characteristic feature of the medieval Finnish literary works was their collectiveness: we do know virtually any individual authors in medieval Finland, although such must of course have existed. The individuals behind the texts remain virtually anonymous. Jöns Budde, a Birgittine brother in the monastery of Naantali during the latter half of the fifteenth century, is sometimes called as the first author in Finland.