Valikko Sulje

Story of the cave

A narrow cave.

During the Great Northern War in the early 1700s, pillaging troops of Russians rampaged in Finnish territory, hounding the inhabitants. The heaviest blows were felt in western Finland, which was terrorised by Cossack troops, but the eastern part of our country also got its share.

One of the villages swept over by forays of summary ransacking and skirmishing was Lassila in Ruokolahti, a community of five farms forced to experience the horrors of war in its daily life
again and again. The open farmland surrounding the village in the Helisevänjoki valley drew the enemy hoping for valuable loot, and many a time the Lassila houses were burned to the ground, and life had to start again from scratch.

But the villagers of Lassila had a means of survival that may have saved their lives, if not their property. Nearby stood Linnavuori, the high granite ’Castle Rock’ with an almost invisible opening in its flank leading deep inside the rock. The narrow tunnel about twenty metres in length opens out halfway, forming a cave known as the ’church’ to shelter those inside.

During the war, the people of Lassila managed to beat the enemy troops by hiding in the cave. On one occasion, forty villagers had run there to escape the rampaging soldiers. However, the Russians soon found the fugitives’ hiding place and ordered them to surrender. They refused and managed to repeatedly repel the soldiers’ attempts to enter the cave. The narrow entrances and crevices of the cave prevented entry by manpower, and burning
branches and the smoke rising from tree trunks failed to break the villagers’ will to defend themselves. The best shots in the village kept the predators at bay with a few rifles.

As the last resort, the Russians dragged looted cauldrons to the top of the rock, filled them with boiling water and emptied the hot cargo over the occupants of the cave. But the water cooled in the small rock crevices, and this trick also failed to harm anyone. The enemy eventually gave in and the villagers were able to return to their village – albeit one razed to the ground.

Dad said we must hold this place. Call out if they come. Mustn’t let them through, come hell or high water. I nodded, although I’d have liked to just vanish into thin air. Or back to the time before this yelling, screaming, children crying and all the fear.

There were three of us, kind of leaning on one another and each holding on to our weapons. Burning bits of tree branch dropped at our feet, the smoke stung our eyes. But the worst were the voices bouncing off the rock wall, the angry orders with a frightening echo. There was a rumble above us that made the ground tremble as it came closer. My knees gave way, and I thought that this is the end of everything. Until someone grabbed my arm, pulled me up, and soon I was with the others, prodding and using sharp spears to repel the arms, dark faces with unfamiliar smells, strange voices, attempting to gain entry.

There was a large wound on my shoulder. Then water started to drip into the narrow crevice where we were standing guard. Blood ran in a rivulet down my side. One of my comrades bandaged my wound with a thick piece of cloth. It hurt. Someone shouted to watch out. I guessed that the water that felt warm on the skin was something other than what God had created.

When I looked up, I saw some dark bird fly over the narrow gap.

Pekka Vartiainen
Picture on the top of the page: Anu Nuutinen
Transl. Annira Silver
Location on map

A person climbing up the stairs to a cave.
Picture: Kirsi Pääskyvuori

The story and the pictures are a part of Tarinajoki book (River of Stories), made in Rural Explorer project. As part of a culture tourism project, stories arising from the body of folk narratives and history also have a function in relation to the productisation of tourism. The stories are linked to real locations.