Some centuries ago, in sparsely-populated Eastern, Central and Northern

Finland, the journey to church and cemetery was very long . This was

also true in Hankasalmi, which was situated within the borders of four

different congregations. The Lutheran church demanded that the deceased

be buried in a consecrated cemetery. In summer and during the times when

the ice would not carry on the lakes, it was difficult, however, to take

the deceased a long way in the roadless wilderness. The churches and the

churchyards were often 40 to 70 km away from homes, in Lapland as far as

150 km. This is why the deceased were buried nearby on uninhabited

islands. This practice lasted till about the 18th century, and in

Lapland as long as till the end of the 19th century.

During the winter when the thick ice made it possible to cross the lakes

in sleighs, the people often moved the deceased to the churchyard. But

many a corpse was left in the island grave for good. In the end of the

17th century, the country was at war. There is not much knowledge as to

who were left on the islands, because they were not registered in the

lists of the deceased and buried. People believed that the spirits would

stay away from the deceased and that they would be safe from animals. For

them, water was a good protecting element, it dissipated the fear of death

and prevented death from speading among the living. Island burial may

also have been seen as a way to the Otherworld. According to popular

beliefs, the journey from the world of the living to that of the dead was

done by boat beyond a passage of water or a river. Christianity was not

able to destroy these old beliefs.

The common feature of the burial islands in Christian times is that they

were situated near habitation. The islands have a hill-like form -

probably for practical reasons, as it was easier to dig in a sandy hill.

The islands were usually beautiful, maybe people wanted their deceased to

rest in a place of natural beauty.

In Kuuhankavesi there are two burial islands, of which the southern one

was consecrated in 1963 to be the resting place of the unknown deceased.

In Kangasniemi parish records, however, there are tens of names of those

buried on islands, and they date from 1697, 1709 and 1710. Some of the

deceased rest on the southern burial island of Kuuhankavesi.