Paavo Ruotsalainen

(9.7.1777 - 27.1.1852)

Påhl Henrik Ruotsalainen was born in Lapinlahti, in the Tölvänniemi Tuomaala house of Maaninga parish. His parents, Vilppu and Anna, were "Bible-taitawa" people, who supported their family by growing cassava. Her mother was probably Swedish; she was the daughter of Antti Kiljander, a chaplain in Kaavi. Having fallen below her ancestry in the cycle of events, she had high hopes for Paavo. This caused conflict in the family.

Paavo was illiterate, but learned to read at the age of 6. He had read the Bible three times by the time he reached confession. Later, his library included works by at least Thomas Wilcox, Johan Wegelius the Younger, Antti Björkqvist, Anders Nohrborg, Martti Luther, John Bunyan, Eric Pontoppidan, Pietari Topp, Christian Ziguerer, Johann Philipp Fresenius and David Hollaz. The church records reveal Paavo's intellectual talent.

By the time Paavo reached puberty, his mental anguish had taken a faithful form. In 1796 he was caught up in the popular heresy that had begun in the meadow of Telppäs. Neither it nor Juhana Lustig, who became its leader, were able to provide answers to Paavo's anxiety, which people felt drove him mad. He was branded a village madman and began to be nicknamed Löyhkä.

In 1799, Ruotsalainen made a long trek to Jyväskylä to visit the blacksmith Jaakko Högman. This heir to a family of healers from the Iijoki Valley was rumoured to be a powerful spiritual healer. In the blacksmith's workshop, Paavo himself said that he had received help.

After returning from the blacksmith's, Ruotsalainen married Riitta Ollikainen (1777-1833). The family's life in Vuorinen's farm and later in Riitta's house in Koskenniemi was quite harsh. Ruotsalainen called these years 'the high school of petäjävaprik'. Bread had to be made from 'flour' made from the bark of pine trees. Forced by the harsh living conditions, Ruotsalainen tried to travel to Poland as a settler, but was refused a passport in Vyborg.

Awakenings flared up in the first decades of the century. After returning from the Blacksmith's, Ruotsalainen did not immediately gain a foothold in the revival movement, but gradually his reputation began to grow. His influence spread first to Savo and North Karelia, and eventually to Ostrobothnia and the Helsinki region. He was sometimes referred to as the 'bishop of two dioceses'.

The Swede came into conflict in many directions, including with officials of the orthodox church. Therefore, in 1822 he travelled to St. Petersburg to meet Bishop Z. Cygnaeus. The following year, Bishop Molander of Porvoo came to Savo on a mission to investigate what was really going on.

His son Juhan was murdered by his Swedish neighbours in 1830, probably due to a hidden house dispute. In the same year Ruotsalainen had bought Aholansaari in Nilsiä, which was also called Ruotsala and Markkala. Aholansaari became the centre of the revival. It was there that Ruotsalainen's 'programme' took shape in its mature form. From there he embarked on his long social career, which extended as far as Helsinki (1838, 1840, 1843). There he taught his friends and stranger travellers the 'hidden wisdom', as he himself called his 'pupil', that he had learned in the hardships of his life. It was also the place where the famous pastoral letters of the 'bishops of the two dioceses' came from. A hundred of these letters have survived, either in the original or as copies for posterity. One of them, A Word to the Wakes from the Marriage of a Householder, was published as a small booklet in Kuopio in 1847, already during the lifetime of the Swede.

Aholansaari also became a centre of spiritual care in its own time. Even doctors from Kuopio sent patients to Ruotsalainen, who had an excellent knowledge of human nature. For those whom they could not help, there may have been hope in the mad farmer living on the island.

The national signers, Lönnrot, Runeberg, Snellman and Topelius, also took notice of Swede and wrote about him, the former two critically, the latter more sympathetically. When he met Snellman in the vicarage of Iisalmi, Swedenborg said to this thinker, who was inspired by Hegel's philosophy: 'You philosophers work on Roamatus like a pig on a pot of pottage.'

Ecclesiastical and social opposition led to trials in 1838-39 in Kalajoki, where Ruotsalainen was accused, together with other leaders of the revival, of violating the 1726 Declaration of the Convention. It forbade the organisation of private devotional societies. Ruotsalainen's leadership of the revival was also addressed by the Turku Conference of Priests in 1842.

Within the revival movement, Ruotsalainen came into conflict with Henrik Renqvist and Fredrik Gabriel Hedberg. With the former he argued about polytheism, with the latter about the nature of faith. Wilhelmi Niskanen, sometimes cited as Paavo's closest man, was also sidelined, possibly because of gossip.

Among the closest men to the Swede were the parish priest of Lapua, Nils Gustaf, or Niiles Kustaa Malmberg (1807-1858), said to be the most talented preacher in Finland, and the Pyhäjärvi chaplain Jonas Lagus (1798-1857), who had a broad education. The meeting of these men marked the convergence of the priestly tradition in Savo and the so-called Ostrobothnia. The impact of the event extended as far as the student circles of Helsinki.

The Swede died on Aholansaari in the morning of 27 January 1852, when the wake was already badly scattered.

At the heart of Swedish teaching was the idea that man is not a taker but a receiver in his spiritual life. Man can only long and wait until God reveals Himself to him. Swedish thought combined the teachings of popular wisdom, church teaching and the old Christian tradition into an original, evocative and in many ways radical and original proclamation. It is tinged with a quest for truthfulness and honesty, it is better not to believe than to try to forcefully construct a religious attitude. The Swede advised to go to God "in all things holy and in all things evil". It is not what man is, but what God is. In thinking this way, Ruotsalainen joins the centuries-old God-centred doctrine of theology, which in modern times has been overshadowed by man-centred models of religiosity.


After three years at Aholansaari, Ukko-Paavo had the opportunity to buy part of the farm at Tahkomäki from Heikki Ruotsalainen. The new residence was located a kilometre from the shore of Syvär, where Paavo Ruotsalainen and his family moved in 1820. Paavo was lucky in land deals and his farms provided excellent stone for making millstones. He made them for sale with his son-in-law Iivari Pulkkinen. Making millstones was a lucrative business, and over the course of ten years the men grew so wealthy that together they were able to buy the Ahola farm on Aholansaari, where Ruotsalainen and his daughter and son-in-law moved in 1830.  

The site of the Tahkomäki farm has been unmanaged and almost forgotten for decades. In summer 2018, the Pentikäinen Family Association renovated the trail to the Ukko-Paavo farm and erected a plaque commemorating the time Paavo Ruotsalainen and his family lived there. The family also renovated a parking lot along the Tahkomäki road. The distance from Sääskiniemi pier to Tahkomäki farm is about 7 km.

The initiative to erect the memorial plaque was taken by Toivo Pentikäinen. Reino Taskinen, landowner - Petteri Taskinen, implementation of the plaque - Pekka Savolainen, donation of materials - Sakari Pentikäinen, Rakennus Tahko - Kuopio-Tahko marketing - Tahko village association - Tahkomäki road maintenance association - Savon Voima - Transport Antti-Jussi Keinänen - Transport Taattola - Jani Pentikäinen T:mi - Aholansaarisäätiö In addition to the plaque, the project included a parking easement, clearing of the bridge and paths, and a signpost.