The Wildman of Lappeenranta
Written by: Jukka Luoto
The Wildman coat of arms (shown in the picture),
painted on tin plate, was discovered in the attic
of Lappeenranta City Hall in the 1990s. It is
presumed to date back to the 1800s. The coat
of arms is on display at the South Karelia Museum.
The heraldic symbol of the City of Lappeenranta, the Wildman, is omnipresent in the town and it is also a popular name for various local products and souvenirs. It is therefore obvious that this is the Wildman’s town.
But who is this long-haired and bearded Wildman seen in the city’s coat of arms, with a leafy garland around his forehead and waist and a mallet in his hand? There is no simple answer to the questions and it should be explored further.
From a historical point of view the issue is clear; the town charter – a privilege dating back to 1652 – states that the town seal should depict a wild man standing the a shore, and from the following year on, the town was known as Villmanstrand, the wild man’s shore.
The oldest remaining seal is from 1656 and shows this man dressed in leaves and holding a mallet the same way as it is understood today: the mallet is in his right hand, with its head pointing down and resting on the ground.
The Name Nuijamaa even older than the Wildman
Another famous heraldic (related to coat of arms) wild man in Finland is found in the Lapland coat of arms, but he carries his mallet on his shoulders. The wild man of Lapland made his first appearance on a coin in 1606. The simultaneous appearance of these symbols alone indicates that they originate from the governing circles of the 1600s and their use refers to the names of the county of Lapland and Lappeenranta (Lapwestrandh).
This picture is somewhat confused by the name of the neighbouring parish, Nuijamaa (mallet land). It could easily be considered a name given by the people of Vyborg to ridicule the village men living around Lappeenranta. The name, spelt Nuiama, can be found in the silver tax books of 1618, but the name is older as it can also be seen in tax books dating from 1559.Evidently, the mallet of Nuijamaa has nothing to do with the mallet of the Lappeenranta Wildman.
Is Lappeenranta Part of Lapland?
The reason for using the Wildman as the heraldic symbol for Lappeenranta is that, in the governing circles of Sweden, the southern shores of Lake Saimaa were thought of as part of Lapland.
Kustaa Vilkuna, a Finnish academic, has reflected on the wildman issue, among others, and also studied the use of the concept of Lapland in early information sources.
According to him, a map of the Nordic countries produced as early as around 1427 by Claudius Clavus shows two Laplands: findhlappi (findhlapland) and wildhlappelandi (wildhlapland), along with the region of the infidel Karelians, Carelorum infidelium regio.
Is not, however, easy to locate these areas. The 1530s Karelian travels of a Novgorod monk called Ilya provide some assistance. According to his documents, Wild Lapland was located somewhere near Porajärvi and Repola.
The concept of Lapland (Lappi) is also connected to the Lappeenranta region, as a 1561 map of Russia prepared by Gastraldi, an Italian, shows an area north of Vyborg called Lapponi, along with a town called Laponesa: Lappeenranta as the capital of Lapland!
In reality, the reasons behind the Lapland connection of the name Lappeenranta can only be speculated. Lappee as the name of a jurisdictional district dates back to the Middle Ages, to 1415. At that time, it had a kind of a provincial status, as it was parallel to the regions of Savo and Häme.
Lappavesi Shores probably refer to Pien-Saimaa
Lappwesstrand (the shore of Lake Lapp), the early spelling of Lappee, and this more recent form indicate that the name should be interpreted as the shore of Lake Lappavesi. In other words, it is originally the name of a waterway. It is therefore thought to refer to the part of Lake Saimaa known as Small Saimaa. This is the bottom end of a waterway that does not lead anywhere. After all, the Finnish word “lap-lop” may, for example, refer to the part of the oral cavity between the cheek and the teeth and thus has no way out.
The map of Finland is full of Lappi-related names, starting with Lappo in Åland. They often have no connection with the Lapps or the Sami people. In line with what was said earlier, they are often interpreted as extreme points of populations, villages and such.
Of course, it is also possible to think that Pien-Saimaa was thought of as the water of the Lapps. One archaeological-anthropologic question remains: are there, in the county of Lappee, two separate layers of population – the original Lapp layer and the layer of Finns moving to the region?
So, the Lappeenranta Wildman is a Lapp, regardless of whether there are historical grounds for connecting the town to the Sami people or not.
The character is by no means strange in terms of heraldry. Visitors to the Cavalry Museum may have noticed that the Mannerheim family’s coat of arms is held up by two wild men. The Mannerheim family own Louhisaari Mansion in Askainen, and the mansion is called Villnäs (wild cape) in Swedish. One could be tempted to think that the Swedish name is the reason for the wild men in the coat of arms. This is not the case, however. Heraldry scholars have noted that another family’s coat of arms found in Askainen church also depicts a wild man, and this family has no connection with Lapland or Louhisaari (Villnäs).
Kustaa Vilkuna has put in a considerable amount of work into following this heraldic wild man around Europe. The Wildman is a common symbol in coats of arms in the mountain regions, especially the Harz Mountains. But it is not native to the region there either, for it dates back to antiquity, to an ancient Italian wild man called Silvanus and the Greek Pan.
The Latin name for the wild man was homines silvestres, literally a man of the forest, but here the meaning became wild, savage, rough and uncivilised.
In terms of our dilemma, it is interesting to note that the definition for the Lapps used at the Swedish Herredag assembly of notables in Tälje in 1328 was as follows: homines siluestres et vagos, vulgariter dictos Lappa (nomadic wild people, vernacularly speaking Lapps). This definition alone connects the Southern European wild man, Silvanus, to the Lapps.
Lappeenranta Wildman created in Swedish Governing Circles
In any case, the Lappeenranta Wildman was created by a governing man in Sweden who was somewhat familiar with the Finnish language and circumstances and could make the connection between the name Lapwestrandh and Lapland and the Lapps. This person was very likely Count Per Brahe.
The sylvan character has his roots in antiquity and is a common symbol in coats of arms around Europe. In Sweden, such sylvan qualities were particularly connected to the Lapps, which is why the wild man is also depicted in the Lapland coat of arms.
The name Lappee was also connected to the Lapps and this is why the wild man has also found his way to the Lappeenranta coat of arms. However, there is more to this issue.
Wildman considered a Hero
There is a large-scale tourist attraction in south-west England, the Cerne Abbas giant; a figure of a naked wild man with his mallet carved in limestone rocks and standing dozens of metres tall. Its age is not known but it is thought to take after the Hercules characters found on Roman coins. We now have another antique wild-man theme.
What is more, the situation in Sweden is not as unambiguous as one might imagine, based on what was said earlier.
The 1541 coat of arms of the State of Sweden is held up by a wild man and a wild woman.
The most famous poem by the first Swedish poet Georg Stiernhielm is entitled Hercules.
His son, G.C. Stiernhielm, illustrated the poem in 1658. The illustration shows a mallet-wielding wild man with three goddesses. They are Virtue, Lust and Intoxication. The scene is overlooked by Amor in the sky.
There are still more wild men in Sweden, as in the circular “The Swedish Hercules, the comfort and joy of the beatific”, King Gustav II Adolf is depicted as a wild man with a mallet and a lion on his shoulders. He has no garland of leaves, nor much hair, and there is a piece of cloth tied to his waist.
Here, the wild man is seen as a hero rather than a pitiable forest-dweller. In any case, the theme was widely popular in Sweden around the time the Lappeenranta coat of arms was confirmed.