Already in the late Middle Ages, peasants were in charge of building ‘seven rooms’ in vicarages. This was later interpreted as seven separate buildings: a main building, a baking house, a barn, a granary for corn and another for food, a two-storey granary, and a cowhouse. New vicarages were usually built in the same place where the former ones had been, so their age-old masonry cellars could still be used. Vicarages were usually constructed close to waterways for easy transport connections.


The logs for the buildings were felled from the forests of the vicarage or of farmers. Parishioners were responsible for the construction and maintenance of the buildings. The yield of the vicarage farm was part of the priest’s salary, but a considerable share of his earnings consisted of natural products such as corn provided by the parishioners, their work in the vicarage fields, and the fees for different services such as weddings and burials. It was only in the first decades of the 1900s that monetary wages were gradually adopted instead of benefits in kind. However, the main building of the vicarage continued to be used by the priest and his family as a residence.


Citizens’ attitudes towards the tax duties associated with vicarages were not always positive. Throughout the centuries, peasants have rebelled and attempted to neglect their duties. The privileges and sometimes relatively extravagant lifestyle of the clergy were also criticised by the younger-generation priests with peasant backgrounds and revivalist movement ideals. After growing up in a vicarage, writer Juhani Aho – the son of a priest with the honorary title of rovasti – wrote about the contradictory personal relationships of a priest’s family. In his trilogy Täällä pohjan tähden alla (Under the North Star), writer Väinö Linna powerfully described a local conflict between a vicarage and crofters, which was part of broader social and ideological turmoil in the early 1900s.


The history of the privileges of vicarages and the clergy has thus had its own contradictions. However, it could also be a matter of honour for the local people to help the vicar get along well in his vicarage. The vicarage, the church and the bell-tower were regarded as symbols of the greatness and wealth of the parish. In a way, vicarages were also centres of progress, often rapidly adopting the inventions of experimental science. For example, in the 1700s, some vicarages were said to be using thermometers and barometers. In 1766 the Kaarlela vicarage had some sort of an electric machine, and in 1775 the Kruunupyy vicarage used a compass and a microscope. The sundial in the yard might make way for a wall clock and a pocket watch. Enlightenment and utility were the dominant philosophies.


Priests’ teachings included not only dogmatics and moral philosophy but also topics such as agriculture, gardening and management of finances. Already in the mid-1700s, Pehr Kalm, a professor of natural history and economics, encouraged his students in Turku to establish gardens in their future residences, similar to those he had seen on his journeys abroad. Kalm claimed that various serious diseases – such as scurvy, diseases of the nervous system, fevers, paralysis, rheumatism and lung diseases – resulted from excessive meat eating, too much salt and sitting. He recommended, above all, a diet based on milk and vegetables. This inspired young students to collect, for instance, apple, cherry and plum seeds, which they brought to their vicarages for planting. In the Rosenlund vicarage, Vicar Gabriel Aspegren encouraged the country folk to grow and breed plants in order to avoid famines caused by crop failure and to reduce imports.


The clergy were often also responsible for health care, vaccinations, poor relief and folk education in their parish. In addition, they could have tasks in municipal administration, such as taking care of grain stores and repairing bridges.  One example of priests’ social activism was Edvard Johansson, the vicar of Kokkola, who acted as a hard-working advocate of Finnishness and Finnish-speaking education towards the end of the 1800s. Anders Chydenius, the multitalented vicar of Kaarlela, is widely renowned as a socially and ethically influential figure.