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.