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  • Author: Miia Kuha x
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On the fringes of post-Reformation Europe, church and state authorities faced problems in enforcing church attendance. In the Swedish kingdom, religious uniformity was seen as vital for the success of the state after the Lutheran confession had been established, and absences from church were punishable by law. The seventeenth century saw significant tightening of legislation relating to church absences and other breaches of the Sabbath, and severe punishments were introduced. Despite considerable deterrents, it was sometimes difficult to control local inhabitants: absence cases were regularly brought before the local courts in Eastern Finland, where authorities were hampered by a combination of geographical distance and a highly mobile population. In this article, popular church-going practices are studied with an approach inspired by historical anthropology. In popular practice church attendance was required only on the most important holy days of the year, whereas on Sundays and prayer days, work or leisure were considered socially acceptable pursuits. Explanations of nonattendance should not only make reference to trying conditions: in certain situations people would travel long distances to church, despite the obvious difficulties they faced. Popular religious traditions and old conceptions of sacred time also affected behaviour among peasants. The great holy days of the year formed a ritual cycle, the aim of which was the maintenance of good relations with the supernatural. For the success of oneself and one’s household, it was more important to follow the norms of popular culture than the orders of the authorities.