Diocese of Porvoo

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland is divided into nine dioceses. Because Finland is a bilingual country, one of these dioceses is Swedish-speaking: the Diocese of Porvoo, or Borgå as the cathedral town is known in Swedish. This unique arrangement shows that the church has made an effort to care for the Swedish-speaking minority along the coast. The Diocese was founded on December 1, 1923.

Swedish-speakers are the majority

All Lutheran parishes in Finland, where Swedish is either the main language (in the bilingual parishes) or the only language spoken, are part of the Diocese of Porvoo. The country-wide German Evangelical Lutheran Parish of Finland and the Parish of Olaus Petri, a parish of Swedes (rather than of Swedish-speaking Finns), are also part of the Diocese. The Diocese includes a total of 56 parishes.

Ostrobothnia, southern Finland and the Åland Islands

All other dioceses in Finland are defined by their geography, but the Diocese of Porvoo is an exception. Physically, the parishes of the Diocese of Porvoo are located in the Swedish-speaking coastal areas of Ostrobothnia, southern Finland and the Åland Islands. The Diocese also includes the Swedish-language parish of the inland city of Tampere (Tammerfors in Swedish). The same areas of Finland also include a number of Finnish-language parishes which are part of other dioceses. Particularly in the larger cities, it is common for parishes to be divided according to the language spoken.

Wherever there is linguistic division of parishes, they must be joined in a parish union. In most of these bilingual parish unions Finnish is the main language. The parish unions are in turn subject to the chapter of the diocese to which the majority of the people in the parishes belong.

Small parishes

In most things, the Diocese of Porvoo is like any other diocese in Finland, but its parishes are considerably smaller. The low membership count in many of the parishes is due to many of the parishes being in the archipelago. In total, some 250,000 people make up the parishes that constitute the Diocese of Porvoo, which is the smallest of all the dioceses in Finland.

Being Swedish-speaking in Finland

Parish membership is very important to the Swedish-speaking minority in Finland, as the linguistic division of parishes gives them an identity-defining role. Thus a considerably larger proportion of Swedish-speaking Finns tend to be members of their local Lutheran parish than is the case among Finnish-speakers.

Bishop and Chapter

For historical reasons, the Bishop of Porvoo and the Diocesan Chapter of Porvoo reside in Porvoo (Borgå). When the Finnish Parliament was considering where to base the Swedish-speaking bishop, the people of Porvoo offered to build a Bishop's House for him. So, the new diocese became the Diocese of Porvoo. The Bishop's House was built as promised and finished in 1927. The town itself owns the building which is rented by the Church as the bishop's residence.


The Chapter House

Illustrious Chapter House in Porvoo

Porvoo first became a cathedral town in 1723, when the Bishop of what is now the Diocese of Tampere was moved to Porvoo from Viipuri, where the diocese was originally founded. Around the same time an Upper Secondary School was established in Porvoo and in 1728 a schoolhouse was built on the site of the present Chapter House.

Höstbilder DK från gården, stor epostThe wooden school building, however, was not well built and in 1749 it was deemed to be unfit for use. This coincided with a time when the school needed more space. In 1753 a decree, made to raise the standard of building in Sweden (of which Finland was at the time the eastern part), stated that more stone buildings were to be built. This led to Porvoo getting its second stone building (the Cathedral was the first) when the Chapter House and School building was erected in 1758-59.

National treasure with a rich history

For centuries the Porvoo Chapter House, built in the Classical style with a touch of the Baroque, has been considered a national treasure. This is partly due, despite a number of renovations, to it having been preserved in its original form both inside and out.

The Chapter House has played an important role in Finnish history. During the first thirty years it was used as a schoolhouse and by the Chapter's Consistory. In 1789 Gustavus III of Sweden decreed that the building was to be used as a military hospital during the Russo-Swedish War (1788-90). Hospital use continued during the Finnish War of 1808-09, in which Sweden lost Finland to Russia (this time, the Chapter House was used as a military hospital by the Russians) and again in 1813, when it was used by the German Legion stationed in Porvoo. However, the most significant event in the history of the Chapter House is the Diet of Porvoo in 1809, when Tsar Alexander I laid the foundation for Finland's autonomy.

In 1815, the Upper Secondary School was moved to a new building, as the Chapter House was considered too small. The Chapter's Consistory remained in the house until a Higher Elementary School was housed in the building from 1845-71. After this period until today the Chapter House has been used, as was originally intended, to house the Diocesan Chapter of Porvoo. Even after various renovations to the Chapter House, in 1871, 1955 and 2005, it still looks almost exactly as it did when it was built in the middle of the eighteenth century.