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Inari, Finland

Pielpajärvi Wilderness Church

This disused church, left to the elements of the Arctic Circle's forests is open for exploration. 

One of the oldest buildings in northern Lapland, Pielpajärvi Wilderness Church (Pielpajärven erämaakirkko) was built in 1760 after the Christianization of the local people on the site of an old Sami winter village. Though still to this day, a principally migratory population known for coexistence alongside the herding of reindeer, the Sami people eventually abandoned their winter church at Pielpajärvi after troubles in procuring a priest for their services resulted in ceremonies to satisfy the devout lasting upwards of a week or more.  

The main center of worship for the Sami people’s believers was moved into the town of Inari itself for this highly practical reason, yet the old church remains standing in the silent depths of the north Lapland woods like a specter of an immutable spiritual past. Today, the church sits largely abandoned, surrounded by the forests of the Arctic Circle. It is used only one day each year, for a lone midsummer ceremony taking place at the site. 

Upon approach, it’s remarkable in what excellent condition the traditional interlocking woodwork of the church’s exterior remains. Though at first glance it will appear as if the church is perpetually closed to visitors, the opposite is in fact true; a gentle tug of its door opens the darkened interior, allowing for reverential exploration in one’s own time.

Electricity is nonexistent, so a darkness from the forest seeping into the interior can be expected. Beyond treating the hallowed place with its proper respect, the key rule to keep in mind is to close the door upon exiting, thereby sealing out the elements and preserving Pielpajärvi for generations to come. 

Know Before You Go

The easiest way to reach the church is to hike from Inari village. The starting point of the trail is the Sarviniementie parking area, which is about 3km northeast of the Siida museum. From the parking area it's about a 5km hike through the woods to the church (route is marked with occasional signposts and more frequent red stakes).An alternative is to take the boat tour out to Ukko Island. After the stop at the island, when you're on the way back to Inari, ask the pilot to drop you off in Pielpavuono Bay (whether he'll be able to do this depends on the weather). From the bay, you can hike through the woods to the church (the route is also marked with red stakes), and from the church back to Inari village.