Guide: H2 Lalli

or Chapter IV of A Guide to Finland, titled “History of Finland, part 2, or Lalli, the first famous Finn”

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So in the 12th century, under the pretext of spreading Christianity, Swedes crossed the Baltic Sea between Sweden and Finland in several waves and grabbed a hold of Finland’s coasts, and of anything of commercial value that could be pried loose. Finns called these ‘crusades’ something else entirely, but since they were heathen barbarians, no-one was interested.

After a long time and one episode that allegedly involved a bishop, a farmer and an axe, and ended very badly for the bishop, Christianity took root.

I might as well detail that mythic episode, just to entertain you. Since this is all just legends invented long years after the alleged events, and since there are many, many different legends, I’ve cooked up an amalgam version that I myself like.

The tale tells that with the Swedes came a bishop, called Henry, or Henrik in Finnish and Swedish. He was born in England, and around the year 1150 CE he became the first bishop of Finland.

This bishop-post included going around in Finland, spreading Christianity and obedience to the Christian Swedish king — named, however, not Christian but Eric — and thus one wintry day bishop Henrik, riding alone, came to the house of a wealthy Finnish farmer called Lalli.

Lalli was away, but his cold and haughty wife was there, and against all common courtesy she did not give the bishop food, nor hay for his horse. (I suppose this was just one of those inexplicable character defects, or then an overly tight case of parsimony.)

After some arguing the bishop, being basically a decent man but in some hurry, took by force the supplies he needed and left a generous amount of money for the food and hay, and then left.

Soon after Lalli came back, and found his wife quite beside herself. She told him how the bishop, a cold and haughty man, had ridden to the hall, screaming and threatening, and taken food, taken hay for his horse, and then left without pay or recompense, cursing the house and the terrified wife.

(This represents the traditional Finnish view of the way women behave; we’re honestly considerably less sexist nowadays. If you hear otherwise, it’s just akkain juttuja, or “female tales”.)

Lalli, quite naturally, was enraged by this lie, and grabbed his skis and his axe, and pursued the bishop. On the ice of the lake Köyliö, he overtook him, and with the blunt, heavy axe killed him.

Since these old tales don’t end the way you’d expect them to, poor Lalli, who took the mitre and the ring of Henrik as recompense, was cursed: he placed the mitre on his own head, and his hair and scalp fell off; he put the ring on his own finger, and when he took it off, the flesh sloughed off his hand.

The moral of the tale is unknown to me: probably it is something along the lines of, Don’t kill bishops. That seems like a decent Christian moral, right?

A fun fact is that in a recent tv show called Suuret suomalaiset or “The Greatest Finns”, seeking for the greatest 100 persons of all Finnish history, Lalli, the cursed, violent bishop-killer and the husband of a malicious liar, was ranked #14.

You don’t want to know the people below the fourteenth place.

The alleged episode of Henrik and Lalli wasn’t a very good beginning, but things went much better, later on. The Swedish language took root at the coasts of Finland, and further inland castles were built, partly to protect Finns from various Russian robbers from the east. After all, once you’ve stopped robbing your neighbors and taken them under your wing, it’d be outright rude to let others rob them.

Besides, what would your tax collectors collect then?

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