The history of Kenkävero Vicarage

The history of Kenkävero Vicarage, also known as the Big Vicarage, stretches back more than 550 years. The first of its predecessors was built on the spot in the mid-15th century but would appear to have been a very humble cottage. It was once on an island purchased by the vicar of Suvilahti Parish partly out of his own and partly out of parish funds. Kenkävero remained an island right up to the 19th century and was connected with the mainland by a bridge.

Kenkävero Vicarage has been a witness to the history both of the Mikkeli region and of Finland's neighbour to the east. It has suffered both the bloodbath of the War of the Clubs in 1596-97, and destruction by Russian soldiers.

The Finnish vicarages have contributed much to the nation's cultural history. Even in the olden days, they were the centres of life in their community, and their occupants were in close, regular contact with their parishioners. The clergy addressed issues of national and social importance, proclaiming their views from the pulpit. They also set an example on such matters as housing, dress, and the development of farming methods. Books on such varied subjects as medicine and agriculture graced their bookshelves, and the clergy would offer advice on these and other matters at weddings, funerals, christenings - indeed, whenever they met their parishioners.

Kenkävero Vicarage was likewise a pioneer of material and non-material welfare in the region from very early times. It was also the centre of society life, in which culture played a highly-revered part of its own. New ideas and trends were welcomed with open arms. The social life was lively, and contacts with the manor houses in the region were close. Members of the local gentry were regular guests at the vicarage on the special days in the year. The vicarage was often the setting for name-day and birthday parties, for social evenings and sewing circles, and for meetings of a devotional nature. May Day was celebrated at the Big Vicarage to mark the start of the new church year.

In summer the grounds were the scene of cheerful garden parties at which the vicarage's own produce was served. The veranda overlooking the garden was in frequent use, and meals and coffee would be taken there whenever the weather permitted. On occasions attended by many guests, the food would be served in the garden off tables covered with white cloths.

The vicarage fell silent in 1969 when the vicar at the time moved into the nearby town. The buildings were more or less abandoned, and the main building was for a time in heavy industrial use.

The neglect of Kenkävero Vicarage coincided with a time when society on the whole cared little for tradition and its preservation. Attitudes gradually began to change, however, and there was soon lively debate on the conservation of the main building.

The renaissance of this sometimes controversial vicarage with its rich cultural history and chequered past began in 1988 after two decades of hibernation. The Town of Mikkeli and the Rural Parish then exchanged plots of land and the vicarage became the property of the Town. The Town later decided to conserve the main building according to a plan for its use by the Mikkeli Arts and Crafts Association and the Martha District of Savo-Karelia.