Taking the archipelago ferry out to the remotest part of the Åland archipelago makes for an exciting trip. Kökar is located at the furthest south-easterly point on the map. It's handy to get around Kökar by car, but it is just as easy by bicycle. Not far from the ferry berth you can take a detour to Hamnö, which is practically attached to the main island. This is where we can visit the church with its remarkable votive ship. The present-day church dates back to 1784 when it replaced an older church.
The ship hangs from the ceiling in the middle of St Anna's church. The ship was made by hand without any advanced tools. Hundreds of hours of work went into it. All 64 cannons have been preserved. The Swedish flag shows that it is an old ship that has been hanging there since the time it belonged to Sweden, before Åland became a part of the Russian Grand Principality of Finland.
Votive ships and votive offerings were to be found in many countries and in different guises. You can see them in several Åland churches. Usually they are an expression of thanks for a prayer that has been answered. Actually, the word "votive" refers to the fulfilment of a given promise (Latin votum). Votive ships have been hung up in churches as an expression of gratitude by those who have been saved from distress at sea.
Prisoner of Turkish pirates
The guide Philip Hällund recounts a tale to make your hair stand on end. There was a seaman by the name of Johans Olle from Karlby in Kökar who lived three hundred years ago. He was drawn to adventure and, like many other young men, sailed out to sea. Johans went astray and ended up being taken prisoner by some Turkish pirates. He was kept prisoner for seven long years. He made a solemn promise that, if he were ever to manage to get back, he would show his gratitude to divine providence. The result was a precise model made with the utmost care. Most people believe that it represents the ship where he was kept prisoner, but with a Swedish flag.
A votive ship that predicts the weather
Philip tells us a little more about the ship. The inhabitants of the island can see how the wind is going to blow by looking at the ship. Even during a church service, the bowsprit of the ship can slowly turn. Today when we look at the ship it is difficult to decide where the wind is coming from out there. But the pirate ship leaves no room for doubt: south-west wind.
When we leave the church and travel home on the ferry to Åland's main island, it occurs to me that the wind is getting stronger. Yes, it really is. The wind is coming from the south-west.
If you want to know more:
To get to Kökar you take the archipelago ferry from Åland's main island. Contact Ålandstrafiken for times and prices. On Kökar you can stay at the Hotell Brudhäll, or in guest house or holiday village accommodation. Another popular attraction on Kökar is Peders Aplagård.
You can contact the guide Philip Hällund via WITW-Kökar (tel. +358 457 3430611)