His first years as a priest were hard for Schwartzberg, both externally and internally. It was during those frightful years of hunger, the terrors of which were felt strongly in the remote parishes. The priests of Pyhäjärvi were quite traumatised when they came to realise that a Pietist man had died of hunger without coming to ask for help. Extremely violent internal battles raged in his heart during those early years in the priesthood.
J.A. Mannermaa, 1915.
I am going to write a couple of short entries now, about sites which are (at least on the face of it) slightly problematic in terms of inclusion on a list of memorials to the 1860s “Great Hunger Years.” The first is in Northern Ostrobothnia, at Pyhäjärvi – itself in close proximity to other memorials (e.g. Kärsämäki to the north, Haapajärvi to the west, Kiuruvesi to the east – all less than half an hour away). The problem here is one of definition: what actually constitutes a “memorial”? I have tended to follow Emily Mark-Fitzgerald’s guidelines from her project on Irish Famine Memorials:
For the purposes of this project, a Famine monument has been defined as a three-dimensional form set in public space. The summary catalogue excludes wall plaques (if not accompanied by other memorial objects), as well as any memorial erected on publicly inaccessible property.
Emily Mark-Fitzgerald, 2014.
Nevertheless, this precludes sites in Finland that, instinctively, should probably be considered (such as the wall-plaque at Kauhajoki Cathedral, or the stones of Katinen Manor near Hämeenlinna). Similarly, sites with visible remains but which have an interpretive “tourist” board rather than an actual stone memorial, are worth adding to a list, even in an appendix (e.g. Puolanka).
At a certain point, I started looking in a more focussed way for sites, based on areas where mortality was at its highest, or other factors (such as there being other memorials in neighbouring parishes). On the parish website for Pyhäjärvi, the section dealing with graveyards and memorials contained a historical narrative of the parish’s old graveyards. One of these – Jumalanpelto (“God’s Field”) – was said to have been in use from 1737 to 1875, and was reserved in the nineteenth century for victims of infectious diseases (especially in the 1830s and 1860s). What struck me in particular was that “in the middle of this field, surrounded by a stone wall, is a memorial to the graveyard and to the dead of the famine years”. Somewhat frustratingly (all clues are welcome when looking for these stones), there was clearly a photo of the memorial at some point but it is not visible on the website.
My first attempt at reaching Pyhäjärvi was in July 2017, on the way down from Kärsämäki – however, another failed time-saving effort meant that the visit was postponed (it’s embarrassing, but probably instructive – basically this was a rare occasion when I used my phone’s mapping service and navigator rather than a “hard-copy” road atlas, and instead of going to Pyhäjärventie 470 in Pyhäjärvi, we went to Pyhäjärventie 470 in Haapajärvi… for most of the journey the route would have been quite similar so I didn’t really notice until we got there, by which time the tight schedule of the day ruled out retracing our steps and we pushed on to Reisjärvi… a good example of disengaging the brain and relying on technology…).
Soon afterwards though, in August 2017, I was able to return and after some scrambling around in the vicinity of Pyhäjärvi Church, on both sides of the road, it was possible to find “God’s Field”. The memorial, as per the parish website, is in the middle of the field, and it is a fine monument. The “problem”, if it can be called such, is that there is no explicit mention of the Great Hunger Years. For a while I wondered if I was missing something – was there a smaller stone somewhere, or a small inscription to which I was blind? It seemed not – and in turn that made me think about the nature of these memorials. If a stone with “1867” carved in it becomes a memorial for many generations – a piece of tangible heritage which forces those who see it to think back to that year – it is nonetheless a memorial. It does not explicitly have to mention the “Great Hunger Years” – indeed, I have even considered sometimes whether the memorial stones of 1867 might originally have had a different purpose (lots of Finnish municipalities were founded in that year, for example, and I have wondered if stones might have commemorated this foundation rather than, initially, the famine), but over time came to be used as a way of connecting to lost ancestors.
With this in mind, it is not for me to decide whether or not this is a “famine” memorial simply because it lacks a specific text. If the parish considers it to be a memorial to the mass burials which took place in that field in the 1860s, then I also consider it to be worthy of inclusion in this blog. If the Kotiseutumuseo (opposite the graveyard, and itself housed in an old grain-store which had been established in 1866) had been open on the day, I would have gone to ask a bit more, and I hope that some day I’ll get to go back and do that. The only nagging doubt in my mind is that somewhere in Pyhäjärvi there is, in fact, a specific memorial to the famine.
Location: “Jumalanpelto“, Pyhäjärventie, Pyhäjärvi.
Modern Region: Northern Ostrobothnia
Date of Memorial: To be confirmed
Inscription: This little field of God has been Pyhäjärvi’s Graveyard, 1735-1875 — I am the the Resurrection and the Life. Jn. 11:25
J.A. Mannermaa, “Johannes Schartzberg”, Vartija: Kirkollinen Kuukauslehti, Nov.-Dec. 1915.
Emily Mark-Fitzgerald, Commemorating the Irish Famine: Memory and the Monument (Liverpool, 2013)