Visit the churchyards of the Geopark

There have been churches in Lauhanvuori - Hämeenkangas UNESCO Global Geopark area since the 17th century. Churches are traces of history and indications of local residents’ co-operation and efforts.

Part of the Finnish cultural landscape

In Finland, the largest religious community is the Evangelical Lutheran Church to which the churches of the Geopark area belong. Churches and cemeteries are part of the centuries old Finnish cultural landscape.

Church towers and campaniles dominate the landscape and they have been visible all around the parish. Churches are the center of a built cultural environment. In Finland, you can see the development of building culture through churches; they represent different building styles and techniques. 

Photo: Honkajoki Church, Honkajoki municipality

Churches are often located in places that have regional and cultural historical significance, where they may have had a long history. For example, Kauhajoki’s current church is the sixth church built on the same site.

Churches and church areas have been meeting places, where people have encountered, exchanged news and even found employees. During church attendance, people heard the latest news and public notices. Churches still function as meeting places, even though their importance as such has diminished over the centuries and decades.

Photo: Finnish Heritage Agency-Finna, Old Kauhajoki Church in 1900

Churchyards are full of memories, great emotions and stories. In cemeteries, you can explore the past of former parishioners, and tombstones and monuments reveal us the history of former residents of the area. At the same time, churchyards are also beautiful and well-maintained parks.  

There are often a fence made of wood or stone that surrounds the churchyard. In the Geopark area, all fences are built with stones, but for example in Kauhajoki churchyard, there has once been a red log fence. In the past, the purpose of fences was to prevent grazing domestic animals or wildlife from entering the churchyard. Today, the fences have mainly symbolic significance when they separate the churchyard from the rest of the environment. 

Photo: Eino Nikkilä, Finnish Heritage Agency-Finna, A stone fence and church stables of Karvia Church in 1930

In addition to churches, several other buildings can be found in the churchyard, including morgues and chapels. Some buildings have already gone down in history, such as church stables. Usually church attendance lasted several hours, and church stables were built for horses as a shelter. Occasionally people stayed in them overnight, too.

Sometimes the church area forms a visually consistent whole, as in Parkano. The number of stones needed for building the bell tower, had been accidentally read as cubic foot instead of a cubic cubit. They are old units of measurement. Leg is about 30 cm and cubit 60 cm. The miscalculation was quite noticeable. It was decided to use the extra stones to build the parish granary, i.e. current museum, and the stone fence. 

Photo: Pasi Talvitie, the bell tower of Parkano Church

The churches were often built in the middle of the village, and the settlement and services began to develop around them. The landscape surrounding the churchyard itself includes a wide range of buildings and building wholes. 

In the surroundings of the Siikainen Church, you can find an old primary school, a rectory and a church bridge. The churchscape of Jämijärvi also includes a rectory, a rectory’s granary, a parish granary as a museum.

Photo: Terttu Hermansson, the old primary school in Siikainen

Next to the Kankaanpää church hill lies Alakylä, an old village of Kankaanpää dating back to the 16th century. Together, the village’s building groups, beach fields and church form the cultural landscape of Ruokojärvi.

The Imperial Decree of 1879 ordered cemeteries to be afar from the village and church. For this reason, an old cemetery, founded in 1890, is located about one kilometer from Kankaanpää Church. From the same year, there is a morgue with wooden shingle roof in the cemetery. The chapel was built in 1956.

Photo: Pekka Kyytinen, Finnish Heritage Agency-Finna, Kankaanpää, Alakylä village in 1948

The birth of the churches in the area

There used to be a long and troublesome journey to the main church from the remoter villages. And on top of that, going to church was mandatory. When the village had enough houses and the population grew, the desire to build an own church or even a chapel began to emerge. 

Building churches required co-operation, funds and organizational capacity, and it was often the greatest effort of the entire community. In addition, a huge amount of building material was needed, and parishioners were obliged to donate it. In Parkano, for example, timber was prescribed according to how large farm was and how it was taxed. Parishioners were also forced to participate in church construction, each according to their own abilities.

Photo: Lusto – The Finnish Forest Museum, Finnish Heritage Agency-Finna, Timber rafting in Parkano


The first church in the area was built in Kauhajoki in 1686. However, the oldest church still standing and functioning can be found in Karvia. It was inaugurated in 1799. The residents were allowed to build a chapel, but they ended up building the whole church with their own permission.

Like almost all churches in the area, the church of Karvia is a cross-shaped wooden church. The church was designed and built by Salomon Köykkä-Köhlström from Jalasjärvi. Parkano Church from 1800, Honkajoki Church from 1810 and Karijoki Church from 1812 are also built by the same person. They all are cross-shaped and wooden too.

Picture: Eino Nikkilä, Finnish Heritage Agency-Finna, Karvia Church in 1931

In 1828, so-called weaponroom was built in the southern side of Honkajoki Church. The weaponroom contained a toolshed and a morgue. Despite the name, no weapons have probably been stored in the weaponroom, but other items instead. 

The photograph of the church and the weaponroom dates back to the 1920s. The weaponroom no longer exists in photographs from the 1930s.

Photo: Finnish Heritage Agency-Finna, Honkajoki Church in the 1920s

In the 19th century, wooden empire churches designed by C. L. Engel were constructed in Isojoki and Kankaanpää. In Isojoki, the church was inaugurated in 1833 and in Kankaanpää 1839. In 1860, rose a neo-gothic church designed by G. Th. Chiewitz to Jämijärvi. The another neo-gothic church rose to Siikainen in 1889, and it was designed by K. A. Reinius. 

Photo: Matti Poutvaara, Finnish Heritage Agency-Finna, Isojoki Church in 1960

In 20th century, the first church to be completed was in Kihniö. The wooden rectangular church designed by Ilmari Launis was ready for use in 1916. In 1934, the Nummijärvi village in Kauhajoki, gained its church due to the hard efforts of the construction community. It was designed by Matti Visanti. Another village in Kauhajoki, Kauhajärvi, got its own church in 1951. That was designed by Jaakko Pelto.

The newest church in the area is Kauhajoki Church, architecturally distinguished from the others. It was constructed in 1958, after the previous church was destroyed by fire in 1956. It was designed by Veikko Larkas. The church is in the form of a Bible standing on its decks with its back upwards.

Photo: Matti Poutvaara, Finnish Heritage Agency-Finna, Kauhajoki Church in 1960

Stories about the churches of the area

Each church has its own history and wide range of distinctive features and stories. Like in Kauhajoki, accidents have occurred in other churches too. The church of Karijoki is also called the church of Helena. According to the story, during the Finnish War the enemy had tried to burn down a church that was under construction, but a girl named Helena managed to put out the fire. 

Parkano Church caught fire in 1928 from a lightning strike. Unfortunately, there was a service in the church at the time of the incident, and the victims were not avoided. The Parkano museum displays the burnt shoes of a boy who survived the fire. In addition, the first church in Siikainen was destroyed by lightning in 1887. 

Photo: Finnish Heritage Agency-Finna, Karijoki Church in 1900

There is a pauper statue on the door of Karvia Church, which dates back to 1960. The original old pauper statue, carved in 1876, was stolen in the 1950s. There was a hole in the statues’ hand for inserting coins. The statue was used for collecting money for the poor, elderly people. In Isojoki Church wall there is a similar statue, which dates back to 1841. 

Photo: Eino Nikkilä, Finnish Heritage Agency-Finna, Pauper statue of Karvia Church in 1930

Church roads are a significant part of the history of churches and the area. They contain a huge amount of memory, information and stories. The Kyrönkangas winter road from Tavastia to Ostrobothnia served as a shortcut to trade and military campaigns, but also as a church road for the area. People travelled via water with their own home boats and especially for this purpose built church boats, which are long rowing boats. 

Journeys to the church have left signs in the landscape. We can find them for example in interesting names of the places. In Kaidatvedet in Parkano, there is a place called Ruumissaari – corpse island. During The Cudgel War, the Great Hatred and Finnish War dead soldiers were buried in that island. In the past, corpses were also stored in the island during winter times. In spring, the bodies were moved and buried to the cemetery.

There is a place called Yösijanmäki, the place to stay overnight, in Hyyppä village, in Kauhajoki, near Kirveskylä village. According to memory, this name is also related to church journeys. The residents of the southern end of the parish had such a long journey to attend services, that they had to sleep on the way. People travelling to the church arrived to Yösijanmäki on Saturday evening, from where they continued towards the church on Sunday morning. At that time, church trips were indeed long, as it was still more than 20 kilometers from Yösijanmäki to the church.

Photo: Pasi Talvitie, Messukallio, Kaidatvedet, Parkano

Church environments are a significant part of our cultural history

Church buildings and environments play an important role both nationally and regionally. According to Finnish Heritage Agency, they are part of our shared national heritage, architectural monuments, structures still used by their parishioners and they represent the continuity of spiritual and material culture from the Middle Ages to the modern day. 

Church buildings are protected by the Church Act, which requires proper maintenance and repair of the buildings. All Evangelical Lutheran churches constructed before 1917 are protected. Even the younger churches can be protected by The Church Councils decision. The protection regulations also apply to other buildings in church environment, such as bell towers, chapels and other traditional buildings.

Photo: Jenni Rankaviita, Karijoki Church

Churches and parishes are closely linked to the development of existing municipalities. Initially, the administrative division was formed according to the settlements. Rural settlements developed around the churches, which later became the basic areal administrative units of the society. The residents began to require for own churches, and as they emerged, the areas were separated from the control of the main churches. Finally parishes developed into municipalities.  

Today municipalities, villages and landscapes are constantly changing everywhere. Old buildings are being demolished and replaced by new ones. Churches still stand out from the landscape and serve as visible remnants of the region’s history. By exploring the phases of the church, you can also explore the past of the entire surrounding area. 

Churches are a significant part of the history the Geopark area. Their stories highlight the efforts and determination of villagers. Church environments are not born by themselves, but have required will and co-operation. Although sometimes their construction and placement have been the subjects of great controversy, they have finally been completed and the church hill has brought people together.

Photo: Matti Poutvaara, Finnish Heritage Agency-Finna, Isojoki in 1960

Text: Jenna-Maria Lehmijoki

Main photo: Sari Vuorela, Siikainen Church

Photos of the other headings: Pasi Talvitie and Tuomo Leikkola


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Markkola, P. 2006: Ikaalisten entisen emäpitäjän historia III vuodet 1721−1852.

Museovirasto 2021: Kirkolliset kulttuuriympäristöt. 


Nummijärvi, M. 2012: Keskustaajama. In Kauhajoen kulttuurimaisemien kirja.

Perälä, L. 2007: Kyrönkankaan talvitie – Oikotie Hämeestä Pohjanmaalle.

Ruismäki, L. 1987: Kauhajoen historia.

Suna, H. 2013: Pyhän rajalla: Kirkkomaan aita osana rakennettua kulttuuriympäristöä. Pro gradu -thesis. Jyväskylän yliopisto.

Suomen evankelis-luterilainen kirkko 2021: Seurakunnat.

Get acquainted with the churches of the Geopark.

Honkajoki Church

Learn more: Honkajoki Church (in Finnish)

Address: Kauppatie 2, Honkajoki

Coordinates (WGS84): 61.99280, 22.26463

Photo: Aili Raudla-Majakangas

Isojoki Chuch

Learn more: Isojoki Church (in Finnish)

Address: Honkajoentie 1, Isojoki

Coordinates (WGS84): 62.11329, 21.95700

Photo: Isojoki Church

Jämijärvi Church

Learn more: Jämijärvi Church (in Finnish)

Address: Kirkkotie 9, Jämijärvi

Coordinates (WGS84): 61.81701, 22.69616

Photo: Tuomo Leikkola


Kankaanpää Church

Learn more: Kankaanpää Church (in Finnish)

Address: Keskuskatu 64, Kankaanpää

Coordinates (WGS84): 61.79887, 22.40243

Photo: City of Kankaanpää


Karijoki Church

Learn more: Karijoki Church (in Finnish)

Address: Kirkkotie 11, Karijoki

Coordinates (WGS84): 62.31161, 21.70564

Photo: Jenni Rankaviita

Karvia Church

Learn more: Karvia Church (in Finnish)

Address: Kirkkomukka 1 A, Karvia

Coordinates (WGS84): 62.13513, 22.56072

Photo: Sirpa Ala-Rämi

Kauhajoki Church

Learn more: Kauhajoki Church (in Finnish)

Address: Topeeka 9, Kauhajoki

Coordinates (WGS84): 62.42133, 22.17852

Photo: City of Kauhajoki

Kauhajärvi Church

Learn more: Kauhajärvi Church (in Finnish)

Address: Kiviluomantie 842, Kyrönlatva

Coordinates (WGS84): 62.21421, 22.30134

Photo: Laura Koivumäki


Kihniö Church

Learn more: Kihniö Church (in Finnish)

Address: Kuruntie 14, Kihniö

Coordinates (WGS84): 62.20359, 23.18345

Photo: Laura Koivumäki

Nummijärvi Church

Learn more: Nummijärvi Church (in Finnish)

Address: Nummijärventie 512, Nummijärvi

Coordinates (WGS84): 62.28681, 22.44400

Photo: Martti Jokinen, Finnish Heritage Agency-Finna

Parkano Church

Learn more: Parkano Church (in Finnish)

Address: Kirkkopolku 3, Parkano

Coordinates (WGS84): 62.01307, 23.02314

Photo: City of Parkano

Siikainen Church

Learn more: Siikainen Church (in Finnish)

Address: Kirkkotie 1, Siikainen

Coordinates (WGS84): 61.87188, 21.82114

Photo: Sari Vuorela

Churches are a significant part of the history of the Geopark area.