"laestadian, apostolic, gay, lgbtq, ex-oalc, ex-llc, llc, oalc, bunner" LEARNING TO LIVE FREE: Laestadius in a Top Hat

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Laestadius in a Top Hat

"The Minister Laestadius preaching" by François Auguste Biard, a member of the 1838 French research expedition on which Laestadius served as an expert on local botany and Sámi mythology. 

Since going online back in the Dark Ages of dial-up internet, I've made a hobby of searching for posts about Laestadianism, but I had never seen, or even heard about, this painting until reading an article by Anne Heith (professor at Umeå University, one of my favorite researchers) that popped up in my inbox. Turns out the painting wasn't acquired by the museum until 2002, so I'm only 15 years behind the ball.

I've excerpted Heith's article below, but follow the link to enjoy the entire thing; she is readable by us nonacademics (unlike many of her peers) and always interesting. Create a free account at Academia.edu to follow her there.

From Situatedness and Diversity: Representations of Lars Levi Laestadius and Laestadianism:
Today, Biard’s painting belongs to Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum in Tromsø, where it is displayed with other more or less exotified images of the Sámi and the northern landscape. In the painting, Lars Levi Laestadius wears a top hat of the kind worn by the higher social classes at the time the painting was made. However, it is unlikely that Laestadius would have worn a hat like that when preaching to the Sámi and Finnish-speaking people in traditional Sámi land. It is well known that Laestadius lived in great simplicity, condemning worldliness, using vernacular language in his preaching, which was seen as vulgar by the social elite. For example, Laestadius frequently used expressions like ‘the devil’s piss’ for alcohol (Heith 2009: 342–361).4 Described with terminology from postcolonial and indigenous studies, Biard’s painting presents an outsider’s view (Smith 2008: 60; Ashcroft, Griffiths & Tiffin 2007: 154–158) of Laestadius, the Sámi and the northern landscape.
Laestadius engaged in a form of acculturation when developing a preaching style adapted to the socio-cultural background of his audience. As mentioned previously, ‘unworldliness’ and ‘simplicity’ are positive values in a Laestadian way of life. One effect of Laestadianism was the expanding catalogues of sins, which laymen preachers created in order to control people, a practice influenced by Laestadius himself. There are numerous accounts of how deviation from a traditional way of dressing in a simple fashion was condemned as worldly and sinful. Another element of exoticisation is the landscape of Biard’s painting. The dramatic snow formations surrounding Laestadius and the group of Sámi he is preaching to hardly exist in the northern parts of Norway, which Biard visited (Aaserud 2005: 43). Biard’s painting combines sketches of people he made on different locations with an imagined northern landscape. 
The imaginative qualities of Biard’s painting reflect the context of its production. In 1841, it was exhibited at the Salon in Paris.5 Biard’s painting clearly represents an outsider’s view of the Sámi, produced with a Parisian audience in mind, and as such exemplifies a form of colonising practice, which involves othering, exotification and marginalisation of groups of people in distant locations. Laestadius’ role in this representation is that of a person complicit with colonialism, a gentleman whose clothing signals that he is affiliated to the colonial centre, speaking to a group of natives. 
There's a lot to chew on here but I want to say that I love the painting's aesthetics. Gorgeous, unreal snow drifts, like frosting on a cake, that lead the eye around the canvas. The contrast between the snow (notoriously difficult to paint) and gritty humans. The folks in the far lavvu, keeping their distance. The lone figure on skis, late to church.

And I smile to think that when I was a child, I thought Laestadius lived in the time of Christ. In the OALC he was referred to as a prophet, so I must have figured John the Prophet had a buddy named Lars. (Needless to say, church history was not a subject in my confirmation class.)

What is your response to the painting?


  1. What has always interested me in the painting is just how eager the people were to hear just what this guy Laestadius had to say. So he must have had a style that connected to the average person. A point of note is the following quote, "It is well known that Laestadius lived in great simplicity, condemning worldliness, using vernacular language in his preaching, which was seen as vulgar by the social elite." I have long maintained is that Laestadius preached in a style that was conducive to his audience during that time period. There is no question that Laestadius was a brilliant speaker. However, the problem I had with modern Laestadianism is that they seemed to think that they had somehow 'captured' his spirit of preaching by reading his old sermons and applying a narrow interpretation of the 'third use of the law'. To effect a modern awakening the preaching must also be in the modern vernacular to get the message into people's thick skulls. Modern Laestadian church growth primarily comes from physical reproduction whereas in Laestadius' time the growth primarily came from spiritual production. Old AP

  2. I think this picture also belongs to a series of lithographs, which came out in "Voyages de la commission scientifique du Nord en Scandinavie......". With good success a sheet or planche of it can be purchased in a good French or Norwegian Antiquarian Book shop like that of Cappelen, for example. Well, having a top hat, some kind of hat one must have, right? Purchased during the early years of studies in Uppsala or Stockholm from a second hand clothing stand - what is that? As far as I have understood, the idea of being a simple man or puritan in manners is not so clearly a religious matter in his thinking. I have noticed very similar ideas followed by some great historian philosophers and the present day Green Enthusiasts of Scandinavia. The great Austrian composer Bruckner, who composed his orchestal works with a simple hope, that "Good Father God likes them", was once asked: "is your clothing sewed by yourself, of do you let a carpenter make them". That journey from Hammerfest and Alta over the plateau of Finnmark, was made in summer 1838. The king Oscar had asked Laestadius to participate that French group. It is possible, that Laestadius wished to show that he belongs to the social class of learned men.
    I have understood, that Laesadius was also very thrifty, so his rigorism in manners and clothing has been merely a social issue, at first. He blames the farmers of the local Finnish minority being so rich, that they can afford themselves coffee drinking every day. He blames the shop keepers of the local cities Haparanda, Umeå and others for too high profits. So, I hear a sound of Bernie Sanders in his voice, and the simple manners of your Jean-Babtiste Rousseau or the modern day young green activist. On the other hand Laesadius was a royalist patriot, a religious conservative thinkker, but also a bourgeois social reformist before that idea turned totally into another direction by Karl Marx and his "Das Kapital" in 1848. Being on holiday I miss few good sources..... Of course, there also a religious feature, which comes from his early years and via his mother from Sorsele. There lived a radical sect organized by 2 cousins of Laestadius, Greta Mårtendsdotter and his brother Königsson. It was Greta, who preached in her Punihsment Lectures (Strafpredikan) about Whore-Clothes, Whore-Music and held her game with the holy sacraments exactly as the present day elders let do in Norway, Sweden and Finland. (The Finns were a hard boiled as always. The reform which went thru in a year in Noeway and Sweden, took 17 years in Finland - thanks the influence of the church and strong christian culture).
    There are Laestadius sermons held in Swedish and their style is milder. But in the bottom there is the pietist view, which differs from that of the pure Lutheran. In Europe we have religious movements, who understand the necessity of the "third use of love", but it does not lead them to those problems of the whole Laestadian movement has. I think thet the main problem of OALC is that Gospel and Law are not truly separated. A sheep in the wolf´s skin

  3. "Biards painting represents an outsiders view". Well, I have on my book shelf a famous bibliography "Samuel Bring: Itineraria Svecana. A list of books on travel in Sweden. Some of them describe Finland and Norway, as well. Always there is an outsiders view, I think. As for Laestadius, he is quite well treated in various notes, diaries and travel journals, if we forget a French lady named D'Aunet, who did not like that clergy man at all.
    As for that scientific expedition, the French almost spoiled the whole affair. When they left Alta, they did not have warm clothes, but some 150 liters arragnac and other good liquors.

  4. For your interest, I am pleased to tell you that you can buy Devils shit from any well organized apotheque or pharmacy shop here.
    Laestadius used the words, devils shit, devils piss and dragons poison for that marvellous drink so much beloved by these northern tribes. I have studied Laestadius' older sermons, and there he do not use those terms previously mentioned. So, this language starts after 1844 and obviously his lecturer in this was Johan Topp, a Swedish pietist preacher. A sheep in a wolf´s skin

  5. Anonymous, Those 'northern tribes' lived a very hard life...in many ways it was brutal. Alcohol is a stress and emotional pain reliever. So when people drink a lot it is usually indicative of a lot of pain with the problem being that at first it is as emotionally addictive tonic and then finally it becomes physically addictive. Laestadius undoubtedly recognized the evils of addiction and he most likely had to put the dangers thereof into stark verbal terms which the common folks would understand...devils, dragons and superstition were all part of my Finnish Laestadian (part Sami) grandmother's vernacular for example. She always retained a suppressed interest in the occult as I suspect many others did and she always saw God as a judgmental being ready to magically deliver swift justice to offenders. From what I can remember, Laestadius changed his preaching tune and began to speak in very harsh religious terms in order to get results....and it was apparent that he was successful. Wise as a serpent but harmless as a dove might be a better analogy. Old AP

    1. Free! I apologize many printing errors, which gives wrong idea in some extent. Yes, you are right, as for D'Aunet. She travelled a lot and wrote several narrations, I remember. We have a abook with these painted pictures you like. I check when I go to book store.
      Alcohol. I just wrote what Clarke says. Swedes were different from the Finns and Sami. Still, hen Laestadius started his work against "Viina-Perkele", the consumption was about 6 liters 96 % alcohol per capita. Todays it is over 10 liters. Laestadius said, that a sami does not drink as much as a seaman in the streets of Stockholm......

  6. Well, the British traveller Edward Daniel Clarke visits Lapland and Enontekiö church in July 1799, and he notices the love of liquors of the Lapps. He makes sames remarks in Turku next winter and says about alcohol and tobacco: where the power of the soul is small, are these refreshments needed to drive away taedium vitae, the monotonous of the life. In this sense he saw, that the Finns are very similar with the Irishmen.

    I have now my Samuel Bring here, and the work which I described before, is Atlas Historique, lithographique d'aprés les desseins de MM Mayer, Lauvergne et Giraud. Tom. 1-4. Paris 1843-48. The famous portrait of Laestadius and few views belong to this series.

    Unfortunately, Monsieur Bairds picture is not represented among them. He belonged to a new group of French scientists, which arrived there in summer 1839.

    He had another kind of job to do, as it had been purpose to show places, where king Louis Philippe had spent some time in the presence if the Duke of Orleans, when he had to travel in Scandinavia in order to keep his head amidst the torrents of French revolution. As we know, he made a child to a servant girl of pastor Kohlström of Muonio Parish.
    Miss Leonel D´Aunet, who later wrote few bitter words about Laestadius in his narration, was his fiancée, but they never sailed to the harbour of the holy matrimony.
    But, that picture is represented in a new Finnish book in size folio. A sheep.......

  7. Thank you for the comments and interesting facts. I often wish I had time to follow each intriguing thread . . . but at least I'm building a long list of books to read in retirement.
    About Mme. Léonie D'Aunet: she did, in fact, wed the artist Biard, but it was an unhappy marriage. I will write more about her in a separate post. An unusual story!

  8. Free wrote: "There's a lot to chew on here but I want to say that I love the painting's aesthetics. Gorgeous, unreal snow drifts, like frosting on a cake, that lead the eye around the canvas. The contrast between the snow (notoriously difficult to paint) and gritty humans. The folks in the far lavvu, keeping their distance..... ".

    It was late summer. They left Kaafjord on 29th August, so the snow can be very natural in the picture, smelted by the water and sun, as sun collects water on the top of ice and make it into crevasses. (Sheep