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Before Easter Night Vigil, Historic Church was Burnt Down in Northern Finland

A large Lutheran church in Ylivieska, northern Finland, was totally destroyed Saturday night in a fire lit apparently on purpose.

This church believed to be 230 years old.

Police detained a local man who was born in the 1980s, and he has initially confessed, police said. There were no fatalities.

Built in 1786, the Ylivieska church represented tall Finnish wood church architecture. It could seat 700 people. Nothing could be salvaged, Vicar Timo Maatta told broadcaster Yle.

The church had wall paintings by Swedish artist Thomas Kiempe from the 1780s and Sigurd Wettenhovi-Aspa from 1892.

The fire in Ylivieska culminated in the crash of the tall steeple. Locals spread photos of the scene in social media.

The fire occurred some hours before a scheduled Easter night vigil. After the church was destroyed, some 500 people attended an outside ceremony near the ruins, which was presided over by Oulu Lutheran bishop Samuli Salmi.

Finnish Minister of Education and Culture Sanni Grahn-Laasonen issued a statement deploring the loss of "centuries of local culture."

Church arson is relatively frequent in Finland. In 2006, a young man caused a fire that destroyed the Cathedral of Porvoo, the site of the declaration of Finnish autonomy by Czar Alexander of Russia.

Also on Saturday, a storage depot of a church in Pattijoki, near Ylivieska, caught fire. The cause was not reported.

By Robert Muriisa.

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