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World's largest Christian wooden church is in Finland

Bell tower of Kerimaki Church
Bell tower of Kerimaki Church
Karin Leperi

Few people know that the world’s largest Christian wooden church is located in Kerimäki, a small village in Finland’s Lakelands in the southeastern part of the country. Built between 1844 and 1847, the Kerimäki Church measures 148 feet long, 138 feet wide, and 121 feet high. With over 3,000 seats inside the church, it has been estimated that it can hold upwards to 5,000 people including standing space. It is considered to be possibly the fourth or fifth church of the Evangelical Lutheran congregation, established in 1642.

Though the church was designed and drafted by architect A. F. Granstedt (1800-1849), one of the most notable Finnish architects of his time, it was actually built under the direction of church-builder Axel Mangus Tolpo. His son, Theodor Tolpo took over after his father’s untimely demise, requiring all male townsfolk between the ages of 15 through 60 to take part in the building according to their income bracket. As a result, the church was finished in only three years. According to the ground plan, it is a short armed double cruciform church and is considered to be a masterpiece of carpentry.

Many have been confounded why such a large church was built in such a small town. Initially, it was thought that there was a mix-up between meters and feet, from architect to builder. However, the original plan archived with the church shows that the dimensions are in accordance with the plan. Others have conjectured that the church was intended to accommodate half of the area’s population for religious services.

Whatever the reason for the super-sized dimensions, the lack of heating in the main building restricts usage to summer months only. However, there is one major exception: Early on Christmas morning, parishioners gather in the church to light thousands of candles so as to provide warmth on this blessed day. Supposedly, Christmas Day is the only time men can wear a hat inside the church.