The church bells in the distance woke me up this morning. The first sign of activity in the landmark red church ever since we arrived; I had climbed up the hill before only to find locked doors and little if any information about service days and times. This was the chance, then; as I came in sight of the edifice, walking hastily along the main road, I was slightly anxious to see the attendees already pouring out. Instead, the usually empty yard was full of parked cars.
I am not so keen on bursting into the service of a tiny church in a foreign country, and fashionably late, so there was plenty of time to hang around while waiting for someone to enter or exit the building and sneak in after. Strange moments: the vast sky and radiant Sun, silence and loneliness.
The graveyard was easier to access without the knee-deep layer of snow.
Signs and Symbols
Finally, a man left the church, followed by an old woman who got back soon thereafter. I followed her in, a bit awkwardly.
The red church of Kautokeino, albeit the most distinctive building of the town, seems to be hardly ever used. The smaller chapels are preferred to that of the national congregation, which remains for many a symbol of the aggressive assimilation policy conducted by the Norwegian state in the Sámi areas until the eighties. The two flags flown in front of the church, Norwegian and Sámi, could be the symbol of a difficult reconciliation tinged with defiance; as for the atmosphere that emanates from the vivid traditional blues, reds and yellows of the furniture, from the ritual itself, performed in Norwegian and translated in sámegiella, and from the eerie children's paintings displayed in the hall altogether, it would be hard to define or describe.
It took me just enough time to take a few very discreet pictures to figure the Interdiction to take pictures during the service signs, displayed in nine languages, four of which I speak. Oh well...
Just a glimpse.
Among the attendees, perhaps one hundred or less, only five or six were not wearing the gákti, the traditional Sámi costume, including the famous bright red hat. In this colourful setting, the white vestment of the priest looked oddly out of place.
The priest said the last words, and the bells rang three times.
Scenes from the exit of the mass, though, seemed amusingly familiar -- universal?