Gods, Spirits and Saints

Permanent Exhibitions

Two epochs in the history of religion in Finnmark are covered in the exhibition: The Sami pre-Christian religion and the sculptures made in the churches of the late Middle Ages when Norway was a Roman Catholic land under the authority of the Pope in Rome.

Copy of the Sami drum from Vardø
Copy of the Sami drum from Vardø. Photo: Anne Klippenvåg Pettersen/Alta museum

The gods in the Sami pre-Christian religion are presented as they are on the magic drum, the so-called runebommen, a decorated drum used in religious rituals. In the exhibition there is a copy of the only runebommen from Finnmark which is still in existence. The original "Vardø runebommen" is in the Sami Museum in Karasjok. It was confiscated by the authorities in 1693. Its owner, Anders Poulsson, was sentenced to death. The exhibition also shows how the Sami religion regarded nature as being alive and possessing a soul. The whole area which now constitutes Alta municipality was a pure Sami settlement until 1600. It was not until the 18th century that the Sami people adopted Christianity.

Icon and Pietà.
Icon and Pietà. Photo: Ann-Silje Ingebrigtsen/Alta museum

Christianity was introduced to Finnmark in the Middle Ages, but was confined to the ethnic Norwegian fishing villages on the coast until the 16th century. The first church in Alta was built on Årøya in 1694. In the exhibition there are examples of late mediaeval high-quality church art made in Germany for churches along the coast. The sculptures show that these were prosperous times for fishing and for Finnmark compared with the rest of the country. The baptismal font on display "embraces all of the history of the Norwegian settlement of Alta." Originally it stood in mediaeval churches around the coast and was moved further inland along Altafjord when Norwegians colonised the area, first in Årøya Church and then in the church in Talvik.