The beloved and unyielding Petäjävesi Old Church

A happy wedding couple, a stone-faced father carrying his child’s coffin, hundreds of Finnish people sharing the latest news – the Petäjävesi Old Church has witnessed the joys and sorrows of Finnish country life for four centuries.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Petäjävesi Old Church tells the story of the Finnish people’s everyday life over four centuries. Built by Central Finland’s land-owning peasants in 1763–65 with their masterful carving skills, the Old Church has been the site of the most profound moments of life. The Old Church is beloved by the residents of Petäjävesi, and it is visited by thousands of enchanted tourists every year.


The origin of the Petäjävesi Old Church is an example of Finnish obstinacy. People back then did not wait around for permits or floor plans from Sweden, the ruling country of that time. Instead, the church was constructed according to the plans of the master church builder Jaakko Klemetinpoika Leppänen, who also led the construction process. The floors, the walls and the steep shingle roof were completed in summer 1763. In 1764, the interior of the church was finalised, and the windows were installed a year later.


The belfry and the passageway connecting the church and the belfry were built in 1821. The master builder was Leppänen’s grandson, Erkki Jaakonpoika Leppänen.


The church was abandoned in 1879 when a new church was built on the opposite shore of the Kirkkolahti bay. In spite of these plans, the Old Church was never decommissioned. The bells remained in the belfry and the graveyard was still used. Since 1920s, the Old Church has been maintained as a monument. The Finnish Heritage Agency adopted the responsibility for directing the renovation and maintenance of the church in 1950s. The surroundings of the church have been under restoration since the 1990s.


The Petäjävesi Old Church was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994 as a unique example of the tradition of Nordic wooden church architecture and log construction. The church’s appearance has remained nearly unchanged.

The church has retained its original purpose, and it is actively used, especially in the summer, for holding concerts, weddings, christenings and services.

Experience the entire region of the World Heritage Site

In addition to the church, the Petäjävesi Old Church World Heritage Site also includes a cemetery and the Lemettilä farm. If you study the Petäjävesi Old Church cemetery closely, you might notice dates from a variety of eras that were difficult for the Finnish folk. Approximately 9,400 people were buried in the cemetery between 1729 and 2009. The Lemettilä farm next to the church has been inhabited since the 17th century. The Petäjävesi Old Church was constructed on land purchased from the Lemettilä farm by the local parish. The enclosed courtyard formed by the buildings of the Lemettilä farm provides an example of traditional Finnish construction design.

Learn more about the church in 1879

In 1879, a new church was built in Petäjävesi, and the old one was abandoned for decades. The “yellow” church of 1879 was renovated in 2018–2019 under the supervision of the Finnish Heritage Agency, and many tourists who visit Petäjävesi are keen to see this church as well.

Because of the current coronavirus situation, the yellow church is only open for guided tours by request during summer 2020. Please contact us by email ( to book a tour for your group. The price is 60€ per tour.

Writing a thesis about the Petäjävesi Old Church?

The Petäjävesi Old Church is an attractive site that can be studied from a variety of perspectives. Learn more about completed theses done on the church.

If you are planning to write a thesis concerning the Petäjävesi Old Church, we are more than happy to help you! Feel free to contact us!

A non-profit foundation is in charge of managing the World Heritage Site

The Foundation of Petäjävesi Old Church is in charge of the preservation, renovation, management and protection of the old church and its surroundings. The foundation, established in 2001, arranged guided tours at the church and is responsible for fulfilling the obligations of a World Heritage Site. The Petäjävesi Old Church building is the property of the parish of Petäjävesi.

Read more about the Petäjävesi Old Church management plan here >>

Read more about the Petäjävesi Old Church management plan.