Mapping medieval sculptures: Part 4. Databases, objects and research


Sofia Lahti, Tampere University

The sculptures of Ii and Lavansaari are so seldom mentioned in published literature that they might not have come to my attention if they weren’t included in the two regional museums’ collections databases. Although the sculptures have lost their original “homes”, the museums are committed to maintaining and protecting their existence. Even in the case of the Ii sculptures, where the museum was unable to protect them from the destructivity of war, they are still part of the collections, where the record of their former existence remains.

Archival card on oral folklore concerning Lavansaari church. Finnish Literature Society, Helsinki. Photo: Sofia Lahti, 2023.

Being registered in a collection data management system is not in itself a guarantee of any particular level or quality of description, analysis or documentation. The registered information concerning the object may be precise, up to date and multilayered, or minimal, patchy, outdated, or any mixture of those. Inevitably some objects will always have a richer, more detailed register than others. The registered content is a result of several factors, different generations of museum professionals and eras of different archival practices, circumstances and interests. Nevertheless, being registered is a guarantee of the object not being entirely lost, forgotten, or out of reach. If an object is in a museum collection but not on display, nor registered in a database or some other cataloguing system, it can be defined as dormant, but it is really as good as inexistent: nobody will know of its existence, and it cannot be found.

Unlike a research database like the Mapping Saints, a museum collections database is primarily a tool for managing the collections, where data concerning an object’s location and physical dimensions is crucial. In some museums, this kind of logistic data is kept in a different database from the information related to the content and context of the objects. Ideally, the same database could serve the interests of collections management, research, and educational or exhibition work by containing all essential information about each item in a concise form, with references to all available literature or sources.

Naturally, a serious analysis of a physical artefact cannot be completed within databases even with the fullest record of data. Artefacts need to be seen in order to be understood; even 3D scans do not substitute the actual object. With lost artefacts or images, however, the impossibility of seeing can only be compensated by other sources. Comparing data on lost images or objects to images of existing ones is a useful option that needs to be used cautiously.

Resources for research and cataloguing in museums are nearly never sufficient in relation to the size of the collections, which is why collections databases are often lagging behind on up-to-date information. Sometimes it also happens that new, research-based information on collection items does not reach the museum. In the worst case, this leads to a situation where the limited resources are wasted if the already existing information on a collection item is not found and the same research work ends up being repeated. In the best case, the situation is the opposite and resources are multiplied, when research and collections management benefit from each other. This is why it is so important that museum professionals and researchers – both ones employed in the museums and outside – remember to collaborate. As long as all the relevant information is meticulously kept, new research is possible and new understanding can be gained, even decades or centuries after the objects themselves may have disappeared.

Mapping medieval sculptures: Part 2. The burned Apostles at Ii


Sofia Lahti, Tampere University

A little chapel existed in the village of Ii in North-western Finland already in the mid-14th century. In the 1470s Ii or “Ijo” was established as a parish, which grew to be one of the largest parishes in the region. According to local history, the parish church was built on an island in the Iijoki river, outside the current centre, and it was destroyed by raiders from the Eastern Karelian region at least three times during the 15th and 16th centuries, so it had to be repeatedly rebuilt.[1] However, still in the late nineteenth century, the Ii church reportedly had a group of six old wooden sculptures that had seemed to have survived there despite the series of attacks.

A group of members of the Finnish Antiquarian Society (Finska Fornminnesföreningen) visited and documented the Ii church in 1896 during their expedition of North Finland,[2] capturing “a group of wooden images” in what was perhaps the only photograph ever taken of those sculptures. In the same year, the Regional Museum of Northern Ostrobothnia was founded in Oulu (Uleåborg), and in 1899, the sculptures were donated to the museum. In 1929, the museum and the majority of its collections were damaged or destroyed by fire, but again, the sculptures miraculously survived. They were conservated and put on display. However, during the war in 1940, a new fire was caused by bombing, and this time the sculptures were finally destroyed.[3] Ironically, the Ii church was struck by lightning and burned down in 1942.

So, since 1940, the sculptures only exist as a catalogue entry in the regional museum. From the remaining information in the museum’s register, written in the 1910s by curator, ethnographer Samuli Paulaharju, they have been tentatively identified as Christ and four Apostles – Peter, Andreas, John the Baptist, and one unidentified apostle. The identifications are based on what is known of their attributes: a key, a diagonal cross, and a chalice. The unidentified apostle carries a book. The fifth sculpture had a cross and a globe in his hand, and this led some researchers to suggest he may have represented a king, perhaps St Olaf or St Erik.[4]

Until recently, it was assumed that the sculptures were medieval. This implied that they had survived the repeated attacks and fires better than the church itself, which seemed puzzling; the archaeologist Mika Sarkkinen suggested that they might have been successfully hidden by locals before each attack. [5] This seemed like a plausible explanation, knowing that devotional images and objects held a great emotional and social value in medieval communities and that there were efforts to protect them during the Reformation, for instance. Unfortunately, it turned out not to have been the case. In fact, whatever devotional art existed in the medieval chapel or parish church was most likely destroyed during the attacks.

The photograph taken of the “group of wooden images” in 1896 is mentioned in a list of all images produced during the expedition. Advised by art historian Leena Valkeapää, a specialist on the travels of the Antiquarian Society, I inquired at the Finnish Heritage Agency if any photograph of the “wooden images” had survived in their archives. The archivist’s answer was: yes and no – the old nitrate negative had deteriorated, but a print of it existed!

Viktor Sucksdorff, 1896: Wooden images from the Ii church. Archival print from damaged nitrate negative. The Finnish Heritage Agency. The print is not currently available for proper digitizing as the archives are being relocated.

The photograph immediately clarified what had puzzled both me and the museum professionals in Oulu: on a first glance, it was obvious that these were not medieval sculptures, but from the eighteenth or late seventeenth century. The attributes correspond to the written description in the museum register. The man previously registered as a king has no crown, but he is holding a globe with a cross on top, a globus cruciger, which identifies him as Christ. As described in the register, there is another Christ figure in the group as well, also holding a globus cruciger. He is surprisingly smaller than the Apostles and the other Christ, but clearly made by the same master or workshop. In other words, Christ appeared twice in this group of sculptures, but we do not know how the group was arranged; similar apostle figures are often attached on the pulpit, which might have been the case with these as well. Their height, 48 cm according to the old museum register, supports this hypothesis. In that case, the smaller Christ (35 cm) could have been placed on top of the pulpit. In any case, in 1896 the figures had already been removed from whichever structure they had earlier been attached to. In the photograph, they are accompanied by a gilt, winged putto angel head and an angel holding a horn or a trumpet; according to the old museum register, there were several more of each. The black and white photograph can be complemented with Paulaharju’s detailed hand-written notes in the collection catalogue: each of the figures had a tunic of a different color – green for St Peter, brown for St Andrew, light brown for St John, light blue for the anonymous apostle, and dark blue for the man now recognized as a second Christ. The written description also confirms that the sculptures are flat in the back, which would have been difficult to read from the photograph. This indicates that they were attached to an altarpiece or, plausibly, to the pulpit.

The earliest known written document that may refer to the wooden apostles is an inventory list of the Ii church from 1780, very vaguely mentioning a group of “church images”.[6] At that point, the apostle images were still relatively new, and the maker of the inventory did not think it was necessary to describe them. However, this also means that there is no clear evidence that the six sculptures were originally part of the Ii church interior. Despite the uncertainties, the approximate age of the Ii apostles is now defined – and thereby also their Lutheran context, which means that in the end, they were not inserted in the Mapping Saints database.

It is fortunately rare for objects to be destroyed in museums. Indeed, being registered in a catalogue can be considered a manner of existing, as art historian J.S. Ackley has observed.[7] For lost objects, that is even the only manner of existing at present.

Archival sources

MV, SMY = Finnish Heritage Agency: Photograph and archival catalogues from the Finnish Antiquarian Society’s expedition (thanks to archivist Natalia Riipinen and researcher Leena Valkeapää for help)

Regional Museum of Northern Ostrobothnia, Oulu: archives and collections database (thanks to researchers Mika Sarkkinen and Eija Konttijärvi for help)

[1] Kallio-Seppä, Titta 2011, Tietoja Iin kirkoista ja kirkkomaista kirjallisten ja arkeologisten lähteiden perusteella. Kallio-Seppä, Ikäheimo & Paavola (toim.), Iin vanhan haminan kirkko ja hautausmaa: Arkeologisia tutkimuksia, 34–43.

[2] On these expeditions, see Valkeapää, Leena 2018, Suomen muinaismuistoyhdistyksen taidehistorialliset tutkimusretket Suomessa 1871–1902. Tahiti, 8(1), 5–27.

[3] Sarkkinen, Mika 2011, Illinsaari, Iin kirkko ja Pohjois-Pohjanmaan museon kokoelmat. Kallio-Seppä, Ikäheimo & Paavola (toim.), Iin vanhan haminan kirkko ja hautausmaa: Arkeologisia tutkimuksia, 46–47.

[4] Sarkkinen 2011, 46.

[5] Sarkkinen 2011, 46.

[6] Sarkkinen 2011, 46.

[7] Ackley, Joseph Salvatore 2014, Re-approaching the Western medieval church treasury inventory, c. 800–1250. The Journal of Art Historiography, Nr. 11, December 2014: 1–37.

Fragments of a Year: Saints’ Feasts in Swedish and Finnish Medieval Calendars (Part I)


Sara Ellis-Nilsson, Linnaeus University

Part I: the Sources

The start of another (Gregorian calendar) year provides a fitting opportunity to present an important source for the cults of saints in the medieval period: the Calendars. These perpetual timekeepers were full of information about, among other things, the months and days of the years, important liturgical celebrations, the “golden numbers” used to calculate Easter, and saints’ feast days. Calendars were included in other works, such as liturgical books, chronicles, annals, and treatises.[1] Regarding the cults of saints, they provided instructions as to the observation and liturgical rank of saints’ feast days.


January calendar fragment with feast days from Linköping Diocese

Fr 27557 (Mi 666, Mi753) – 15th-century Calendar fragment for January in use in the Linköping Diocese


For the earliest period, that is from the 12th to the 14th centuries, the Swedish Calendar material is fragmentary. However, for the end of the medieval period, entire liturgical works, such as printed breviaries and missals, still survive and include complete calendars. This way of organizing the year was valid until just prior to the Reformation. In order to chart the development of saints’ days, the early calendar fragments, in combination with the printed works, are important. Once a part of over 6000 manuscripts – from theological treatises to liturgical books – it is, in fact, lucky that these mutilated codices survived at all. These volumes were considered obsolete in the ecclesiastical reforms which occurred in the wake of Martin Luther’s reformation and, in the Nordic countries, were collected in order to be re-purposed.

Thus, as one of the consequences of the Reformation in the Nordic countries, these discarded manuscripts were re-used, among other things, as parchment covers on account books or binding reinforcements. In itself, re-using the parchment was not unusual in the medieval period as parchment, being costly and valuable, for worn-out books was often re-purposed in some way.[2] In Sweden, it was King Gustav Vasa who made this particular decision to re-use the pages as wrappers for his accounts. The practice was then later continued by his sons. In fact, nearly all of the accounts of the Chamber Archives are bound in old church books.[3] These included pages from liturgical books including their accompanying calendars.

Before discussing the calendars further, it is important to give a brief overview of the work that has been done identifying and cataloguing the parchment fragments. The systematic collection and re-use of these parchment leaves meant that they were preserved in the Swedish National Archives (Riksarkivet and Kammararkivet) and, eventually, in Helsinki in the Senate Archives and then in the National Library of Finland (Helsinki University Library). In Sweden, by 1930, Antonie (Toni) Schmid (1897-1972) began cataloguing and collating the fragment material about which the National Librarian Isak Collijn (1875-1949) had originally written an account. Oloph Odenius was Schmids assistant in the cataloguing endeavour from the 1950s and he continued her work after she left the archives.[4] Their project was re-vitalized in 1995 by Jan Brunius (Swedish National Archives), together with Gunilla Björkvall (Stockholm University) and Anna Wolodarski (National Library of Sweden). Over the next decade, the MPO-project (Medeltida PergamentOmslag, or medieval parchment covers) aimed to complete Schmids Catalogus Codicum Mutilorum (CCM) – i.e. catalogue of mutilated manuscripts – and catalogue the fragments in a database that is now available online: the Database of Medieval Parchment Fragments.

As for the material preserved in Finland, it is estimated that the fragments once comprised 1500 volumes. After Finland was annexed by Russia in 1809, the documents related to Finnish and Russian territories formerly belonging to Sweden were moved to the Senate Archives. From the mid-19th century, a process of removing the medieval parchment fragments from the account books and tax records began. This collection was then moved to what was then called the Helsinki University Library, now the National Library of Finland. The first attempt to systematically catalogue the material was started in the early 20th century by Toivo Haapanen (a musicologist), who was interested in the liturgical material. A church historian, Aarno Maliniemi, studied the calendar fragments around the same time.[5] However, it was first in the 1970s that Anja Inkeri Lehtinen commenced the next step in the cataloguing of the fragment material, in particular the theological and legal texts. After this, a number of scholars actively catalogued various categories of material in the 1980s and 1990s, for example Ilkka Taitto’s research into the antiphonaries. Finally, in the early 21st century, Tuomas Heikkilä led a project focussing on literary culture, rather than on specific book categories. One of the results of this project was a catalogue of previously uncatalogued fragments and the beginnings of a digital research database of the fragments.[6] The resulting database was the first released in the Nordic countries. More recently, work on the fragments has also been published by, among others, Jaakko Tahkokallio, Ville Walta, and Jesse Keskiaho. The resulting catalogue and digital images of the Fragmenta Membranea Collection are available online in the Fragmenta membranea database: .

As part of this project, I am studying the development of saints’ feasts in the Ecclesiastical Province of Uppsala by analyzing the addition and removal of feasts in the Calendar fragments. Using digital methods to compare and map the calendars, these results will be compared to the final version of the liturgical year that was established in the printed Calendars before the Reformation. More on this part of the project will be the subject of my next blog-post.



[1] See also, Kathleen Doyle and Cristian Ispir, “Medieval Calendars” (British Library, 2019),, Accessed 2020-01-04.

[2] This occurred in all three kingdoms Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. An overview of research on the fragments in Norway and a digitized catalogue can now be found online, here: . For Denmark, see, e.g. Åslaug Ommundsen & Tuomas Heikkilä (eds.), Nordic Latin Manuscript Fragments: The Destruction and Reconstruction of Medieval Books (Routledge, 2017).

[3] Jan Brunius, “Medieval manuscript fragments in the National Archvies – a survey”, in Jan Brunius (ed.), Medieval Book Fragments in Sweden (The Royal Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities, 2005).

[4] For more info see, “Antonie (Toni) E M Schmid” (by Jan Brunius) in Svenskt biografiskt lexikon (1917-):  and Jan Brunius, “Foreword” in Jan Brunius, From Manuscripts to Wrappers: Medieval Book Fragments in Swedish National Archives (Skrifter utgivna av Riksarkivet 35, 2013).

[5] Tuomas Heikkilä, “Research on parchment fragments”, The National Library of Finland Bulletin 2012. 2012. Accessed: 2020-01-14. See also, the collection description:

[6] Heikkilä, “Research on parchment fragments”,