"laestadian, apostolic, gay, lgbtq, ex-oalc, ex-llc, llc, oalc, bunner" LEARNING TO LIVE FREE: Grave Robbing to Reconciliation

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Grave Robbing to Reconciliation

"Perhaps the best discovery made on the trip, namely 2 sacks full of Lapp skulls and bones." -- Lars Levi Laestadius
The quote is from an excerpt (translated from Swedish) of a remarkable White Paper published by the Church of Sweden, available in print (at no cost) and excerpted online, where it can be copied and pasted into Google Translate. Titled "The Historical Relationships between the Swedish Church and the Sámi: A Scientific Anthology," the paper is the result of a project begun in 2012 whose purpose was to "deepen the knowledge of historical relations between the Church and the Sámi." It serves as a public confession of abuse, and the Church calls it is a necessary first step toward reconciliation.

A direct line can be drawn between the grave-robbing of the 19th century and the race biology of the 20th century to the horrors of the Holocaust. When the Swedish Institute for Racial Biology was founded in Uppsala in 1922, it was the first of its kind in the world, and its painstaking research methodology was admired by, and became a model for, Nazi Germany. (Learn more in this excellent documentary.)

Excerpt from "The Historical Relationships between the Swedish Church and the Sámi: A Scientific Anthology":
Priests and other representatives of the Church of Sweden took part in robberies and excavations and contributed to the collection of Sámi human remains for cranial and racial research.
This research has in itself contributed to the notions of the Sámi as a primitive and lower standing people and enabled discrimination, marginalization and oppression of Sámi in Sweden.
Priests participated in the robbery of Sámi graves
During the 19th and early 1900's, Sámi tombs were plundered in a comprehensive search for skulls and skeletal parts, including the service of racial biology. Priests and other representatives of the Swedish Church participated. Today, Sámi demands that human remains be returned.
The grave robberies were sometimes held secretly during the night and using bribes. There was, of course, a resistance among Sámi against what happened, which those responsible showed little respect for.
The most famous example is Lars Levi Læstadius (1800-1861), church leader in Karesuando and Pajala parishes and founder of the Lapponian revival movement. There are several examples of how he participated in the robbery of Sámi tombs, for example as a guide and local expert in the French La Recherche expedition (1838-1840). Læstadius himself writes in an unsigned newspaper article about what the expedition found: "Perhaps the best discovery made on the trip, namely 2 sacks full of Lapp skulls and bones."


  1. The institute was established in 1922, but the studies of craniology started 70 years earlier by Alfred Retzius, who also visited Laestadius first time in summer 1827. Last letter he sent to Laestadius in 1846, as he requested a sceleton of a fetus. This new scientific research was also concerning the Finnish minority of Sweden in Lapland, Värmland and Dalecarlia - and the whole neighboring Finland, where Anders Retzius made a tour. His son Gustaf Retzius published a book named "Finska kranier", where he forms his race type "Östbaltiska ras" or Eastern Baltic race, the Finns. That was a lower race, unable to form any higher culture..... The modern DNA based research has swept away these theories. The Finns and the Lapps or Sami belong to the original people of Scandinavia and Europe, people who came there thousands of years before the Indo-Europeans. The Swedes have noticed having same Finno-Ugrian heritage in their blood. By the way, one similar book on Sami Craniology I once send to Nils-Aslak Valkeapää.

    Can we judge past generations? In my opinion we should learn from them and forgive, as the values and knowledge of those people are very much different from those existing in the western world today. This idea is not my personal opinion, but a common method of history.

  2. Thank you for your interesting contributions. Did you know Nils-Aslak? He was an incredible talent!
    I agree that it is better to learn from than to judge the past, but we must have actual facts to learn from, not white-washed history. The internet is making these facts more accessible, but it will be some time before they are taught to schoolchildren.

  3. Well, for me these facts are familiar from early 1970's. They can be read in some Laestadius-biografies in Swedish and Finnish. In Swedish "Franzén: Naturalhistorikern Lars Levi Laestadius, Luleå 1973( Torndedalica) and in Finnish : Ojala: L L L, Tiedemies ja pappi. 2007".

    One ekonomiedirektor Fröberg let open and grave up the great massgraves around the city of Kalmar, took up the bones and sculls and let them be milled into powder and sold the product to the farmers. That happened in 1830's and nobody blamed him. So he lived on as a respected and honorable business man. In Nasafjället Silvermine Laestadius´father let grave up the cemetery and took the coffin blades for better use, as the bones and skeletons did not need them any more. That was quite normal in the area where there was no forest or growing trees.
    So, sculls and bones of the died were interesting scientific material, similar to birds and insects. Most of the great scientists of those days were priests, so Laestadius´ was a man of his age - exactly as we are people of our time.

  4. The same thing happened here in the good old USA in the 1800's by some big named universities as the field of medicine was trying to learn about the human body and its functions. Dissection of the dead was considered a religious abomination at the time thus medical teams had to conduct late night grave robbery to find cadavers to examine. The cadavers were preserved in a solution of whiskey. After the examinations were completed the whiskey was often drained off and-brace yourself!!!-drank by the medical students hence the named 'rot gut whiskey'! But I agree that it unfair for us now to cast too harsh a judgment on previous generations given the context of their time period. They probably were doing the best they could with the knowledge that they had at that time period. Many of the old Laestadians I knew from the late 1800's had a lot of superstitious kinds of ideas that they harbored internally. The problem was that those same superstitions had often become meshed within their Laestadian religious concepts. Old AP

  5. Superstitions, if they were a kind of Laestadian religious culture, the problem would be easy to solve. Those ideas live and flourish, however, among Evangelicals, Baptists, Lutherans and Presbyterians even today. New ideas come and live on. Some well educated Americans have tried to emphasize, that the Climate Change debate and research is a merely a wicked plan to fool people to leave Jesus. The idea of the Swedish Church, what is that? I kind of marketing effort?
    Laestadius was a pragmatic man. One lady once asked him "what happens to the body in ressurrection, as bones and scull are separated from each other like that? " It means a half-resurrection", said LLL