Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

About 150,000 square miles of the most northerly regions of Europe, from the Atlantic Ocean to the White Sea, from the Pole and the Arctic Ocean to the 62° N. lat., are occupied by a partly stationary, partly nomadic people of Mongolian race, usually designated as "Lapps", while their neighbours call the territory over which they migrate "Samelads" and the people themselves "Same", though many prefer the term Fjelman (mountaineers). The country is rich and varied. Radiant days and midnight sun alternate with months of night and twilight, contrasts that can scarcely be found elsewhere on earth. Deep obscure forests surround bright sheets of water; majestic rivers hurry over mighty cataracts to the sea; here ice-capped mountain peaks tower skyward; there innumerable herds of reindeer pasture in the grassy river valleys. The earth conceals all kinds of treasure, thus the inexhaustible iron mines at Gellivare are well known (in 1901 output 1,200,000 tons) as among the richest in the world. The total number of Lapps (the nation as such has exerted no influence on the development of mankind and therefore has no individual history) is about 30,000, of whom 2000 live on Russo-Finnish, 8000 on Swedish, and 20,000 on Norwegian territory.

This singular race is divided into three different groups: mountain, forest, and fisher Lapps. The first two are nomadic and almost entirely dependent upon reindeer. Nearly all the needs of the Lapps are supplied by this useful creature, which closely resembles a stag. The flesh provides his food; from its milk he obtains cheese; from the hide, clothes, leather, foot and tent covering, while the antlers yield material for knife blades, vessels, etc. During the winter the mountain Lapps move down from their storm driven heights to the sheltering valleys. Here they linger until spring and while here slaughter superfluous animals. They conceal their provisions in storehouses (njallas) to save them from depredation. Into the part of the cuoptes (that is sheds resting on piles) not used to dry meat, they bring tools and sledges for the summer. On the approach of spring they return to the green mountain meadows where the reindeer calve and then, having abundant food, supply milk for nourishment and for making cheese. The dwellings of these Lapps consist of an easily movable kata, or conical hut, with skins fastened over the poles and ceilings and in winter roofed over with turf. These huts are fifteen to sixteen feet in diameter at the base and from six to fifteen feet in height. They have two entrances but no windows. The smoke from the fireplace in the middle escapes through an opening above. Around the hearth men and dogs, parents, with children and servants, lie on fir or birch twigs covered with skins. Less laborious than the lives of the mountain Lapps are those of the forest Lapps who have fixed places of abode and dwell in log-houses. Twice a year, in spring and autumn, they leave their hearths and devote themselves to hunting and fishing. The rest of the time they are employed, like the mountain Lapps, in breeding reindeer. The forest Lapp is in every respect more favoured than the rest of his race, and enjoys such luxuries of civilization as salt, meal, coffee, and tobacco. The fisher Lapps have few resources, and at the best have only a few reindeer to dispose of. They are industrious and depend solely on the often insufficient results of their toil. Absolute pauperism is frequent among them. As to physical traits, the Lapps are usually small and slight in figure like the Scandinavians and Russians; their heads are broad, the profile sharp and the expression somewhat sad. Their complexion is yellowish and the long jaw and pointed chin develop only a scanty beard. They love gay coloured clothes adorned with rude ornaments of silver or tin and make them with much skill. They are not lacking in mental capacity and few Lapps are totally illiterate. Education is provided by means of a few established schools and the aid of travelling teachers. Kindness and gentleness form the bright side of the Lapps' character. Thieving is rare. It is natural that an isolated people, but too frequently the victim of natural forces, should be given over to superstition.

Formerly the Lapps were polytheists. Ibmel appears to have been invested with a sort of leading rôle among the gods, and his name is still used figuratively. To-day most of the people profess, at least outwardly, the Confession of Augsburg. There are several parishes, e.g. Kautokeins and Karajok in Norway, Karesuanda and Jukkejarin in Sweden where religious service is held in both the Scandinavian and Lapp languages, or only in the latter. It is abridged and the attendance is slack. About four times a year, however (at the so-called Helgdagar), the contrary is true. The multitudes who assemble at that time combine business and pleasure, markets and popular sports with religious celebrations. A few thousand Lapps were Christianized in the sixteenth century by monks from the Russian island-monastery of Solowetzkoij and were enrolled as members of the Orthodox Church. Their new "religion" was no more seriously taken than the Protestant Christianity of the Southern Lapp. Attempts at conversion were certainly made during the Middle Ages from Upsala, the archbishop of which was the protector of the nomads of the northern provinces, tributary to Sweden ; the missions, however, made no real progress, though at the time of the Calmar Union (1397) the rich Lapp, Margarethe, took a lively interest in them and a priest named Tolsti was sent to preach the Gospel and erect churches for them. After the schism, Gustavus I Vasa took the matter up again and is said to have sent Brigittine monks from Vadstena to these northern missions. Charles IX had some chapels built, caused the Lapp language to be used by preachers, and laid the foundations for much of the work done later. In Norway, instruction in their native language were first given the Lapps in 1714 at the instigation of Thomas of Westen. This brought about conversions, but in 1774 when the instructions were once more confined to Danish, the neophytes fell away. In the middle of the eighteenth century an unsuccessful mission was undertaken by the Moravian Brotherhood. Since then much has been done to Christianize and civilize these people. Numerous grammars, dictionaries, and readers have been written, religious tracts disseminated, and even portions of the Holy Scripture translated into their language. Since the repeal of adverse legislation, the Catholic Church has likewise endeavoured to gain an influence over these poor nomads. Unlike the Protestant missionaries, fathers of families, the unmarried Catholic priests have chosen the severe winter season for their work. The results, indeed, are yet moderate, though the future offers relatively favourable prospects.


More Encyclopedia

The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed in fifteen hardcopy volumes.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.

No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.

Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912

Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17
11 "For the Lord Yahweh says this: Look, I myself ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 23:1-2, 2-3, 5, 6
1 [Psalm Of David] Yahweh is my shepherd, I lack ... Read More

Gospel, Matthew 25:31-46
31 'When the Son of man comes in his glory, escorted ... Read More

Reading 2, First Corinthians 15:20-26, 28
20 In fact, however, Christ has been raised from the ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for November 23rd, 2014 Image

Bl. Miguel Pro
November 23: Born on January 13, 1891 in Guadalupe, Mexico, Miguel Agustin ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter