Lars Ulstadius

Lars Ulstadius

The old Dome of Turku, Finland
The Castle of Turku, where Lars Ulstadius was imprisoned the first three years of his life sentence.

The Castle of Turku, where Lars Ulstadius was imprisoned the first three years of his life sentence.

In Finland the first appearance of radical Pietism is personified in the mysterious figure of Lars Ulstadius (~1650-1732). He was a Lutheran minister and a schoolteacher who, due to contacts with early pietistic literature, came to be tormented by religious doubt, guilt, and general anxiety. He first caused a stir in the beginning of the 1680s by blowing up his philosophical works in Oulu. He also renounced his priesthood in the Lutheran church and his schoolteacher job.

He then fell ill (or so it was thought by those who didn't understand his prophetic calling) and for about two years he neither washed himself nor had his hair or beard cut. In his agony he turned to the local vicar, asking for public absolution for his sins. The vicar explained to him that such scruples were merely the work of the devil and he should not pay attention to them.

In July 22, in 1688, Ulstadius then in due course appeared in the Dome of Turku in his rags, with his hair hanging long and with a huge matted beard, interrupting the service by starting to read aloud the radical theses he had written down. Like some Old Testament prophet, he proclaimed that the Lutheran doctrine was to be doomed, that prayer books and postillas were a bunch of lies, and that the ministers were not endowed with the Holy Spirit.

When two men grabbed him to throw him out of the Dome, what was left of his humble dress fell off and poor Ulstadius stood there naked, only covered by his long hair and beard. He then ran down the main isle of the church, bare naked, screaming that the disgrace of Finnish clergymen will once be revealed like his disgrace now.

Ulstadius and two of his most impassioned followers were sentenced to death, but the conviction was changed to life in prison. Ulstadius was then sent to the infamous prison Smedjegården in Stockholm, Sweden, where he remained for the rest of his life, for many years under very hard conditions.

During the end years, when he was an old man, he once was offered the freedom, but when he learned that his freedom was only a pardon, not a change of the original conviction, he said that he didn't want such a freedom, and asked to stay in the prison.

He was granted that, and they also gave him better conditions, so that he even was able to hold meetings and prayers in his prison cell, together with the people of the growing Radical-Pietistic movement in Stockholm, during that time.

He finally died in 1732, 82 years old. He had then been in prison for 44 years, and was remembered long after, both in Finland and Sweden, as a forerunner for the Pietistic revival and for free revivals as a whole.

The old Dome of Turku, Finland


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