Hamnö, with its beautiful and unusual nature, is one of the most remarkable places of the Åland archipelago. A medieval monastery environment – in the outer archipelago! On a hilly island of about 1 km, there are extensive remnants of medieval activity; a seafarer chapel and two harbours. Shipping has been a precondition for the Hamnö church and monastery as a Christian and cultural centre.
Kökar is known to have had a monastery during the Middle Ages, Conuentu Tiokkakarlensis, the only one of its kind in Åland. The monastery was a Franciscan convent and is mentioned for the first time in 1472. It is, however, believed that the monks have been active in the area since the 14th century; first seasonally and then more permanently towards the end of the century.
A contributory cause why the monks came here may have been Hamnö’s importance as a medieval harbour and that there was a seafarer chapel on the island. Another reason may have been the importance of fishing for Kökar, which meant that a lot of people stayed here seasonally. The monastery activity was discontinued during the reign of Gustavus Vasa. All that remains of the monastery today are ruins, found by the church of Hamnö. On the monastery ruins there are nowadays a chapel, used in summer both for exhibitions and functions.
Archaeological studies show that there were important building complexes both within and outside the monastery area on Hamnö. The seafarer chapel, two groups of dwellings and the monastery church seem to be older than the monastery. This indicates that there was previous activity on Hamnö, which was why the Franciscan monks came here.
The seafarer chapel was situated on the southern side of Hamnö, and was a small wooden building from the 13th century with walls around it. The chapel had a painted window and a brick roof, which indicates that it had an important function in the Middle Ages.
The monastery church, probably built at the end of the 14th century and in the beginning of the 15th century, was a large grey granite church with a sacristy and tower. The tower seems to have been built somewhat later, because older graves have been found under the wall, but most likely not later than during the first part of the 15th century. The ground plan of the church does not resemble Franciscan construction tradition, and it is therefore likely that the church used to be a regular parish church that the monks took over.
North of the church and the monastery courtyard, there was the kitchen and the refectory – dining hall – of the monastery. Here, remnants of several stoves and green pieces of stove tiles have been found.
Outside the northern wall there was a garbage pile where lots of findings were discovered: ceramics, glass, utensils, coins and lots of bones and fish-scales. The pile was in use from the 15th century up until the 18th century.
The refectory is in the west built together with a storehouse, the monastery cellar. The cellar was maintained until the middle of the 19th century when it fell into disrepair. In 1974,the current protective roof was built, and in 1979 the building was inaugurated as a Franciscan chapel. It is nowadays used as a church room and museum. In summertime there is an exhibition here with texts, pictures and findings from the history and excavations of the monastery.
Some graves have been found in the chancel and the church tower. According to tradition, the finest graves are inside the church. Outside the northern wall of the church there is, peculiar enough, a medieval burying place with more than 40 graves. The graves are hard to explain as the northern side of the church normally was avoided. Some of the graves may be explained by the activity of the monastery, but the earliest graves were there before the monastery was founded. A total of almost 100 skeletons have been found, investigated and buried again.
About one hundred metres south of the church, there are two large medieval building complexes. They don’t seem to have been directly connected to the monastery. Both are at least from the 14th century. The southernmost of the two has been a wooden dwelling with at least three rooms. There was also a stone cellar, a warehouse and a well with walls and bottom made of stone.
The south-eastern complex consists of a dwelling-house and a little forge. The forge has been in active use; more than 60 kg forging slag, as well as some knives and half-made products, have been found here.
Some strange findings were found nearby; a bronze buckle from the time of the crusades 1050-1150, an elderly type of battleaxe and three crossbow arrow heads from the latter part of the Middle Ages. The south-eastern complex can hardly be related to the Franciscans, but perhaps it may concern some kind of military activity from the time before the foundation of the monastery. To the west of the southern buildings, there is one more building, unexplored to date.
On Hamnö there are unexplored remnants of two harbours with quay constructions. The westernmost, Modermagen, may be somehow connected with the seafarer chapel, which is close by. It is situated in a lagoon, protected by a pier. The other one, Munkbron, consists of a stone wall with an angle at the inner end. It is situated to the southeast of the monastery and is, according to local tradition, the harbour of the monastery. The stone wall can be interpreted as the filling of collapsed caissons. The size indicates that it cannot have been meant for the use of the monastery only. The harbour may also be somehow related to the south-eastern buildings.
The culture trail at Hamnö has been planned so that it passes by all the most important remnants on Hamnö, while it leads you through typical Kökar nature. The walk most conveniently starts by the Franciscan chapel with the exhibition and its stories about Hamnö. The culture trail is a cooperation between the museum department of Åland, the Kökar congregation, and the folklore society of Kökar. There is an ongoing effort to maintain and put up signs at the excavated sights.