Isaac Olsen

The First Missionary among the Sami People in Finnmark?




Isaac Olsen, Eighteenth century, Northern Norway, Missionary among the Sami people, Preacher, Teacher


This article deals with Isaac Olsen, a Norwegian who was an itinerant catechist and teacher among the Sami people in Finnmark, Northern Norway. The author claims that Isaac Olsen, as a forerunner to the Sami missionary Thomas von Westen, in fact was the first missionary among the Sami people in Finnmark. Isaac Olsen came to Finnmark just after 1700, learned the Sami language and started his work among the Sami population in Eastern Finnmark. He got to know the Sami people well, and they gave him information about Sami pre-Christian religious practice, among other names of places of sacrifice. These names, in addition to many other pieces of information, were written down by Isaac Olsen in a copybook that has been preserved. The article discusses in great detail the contents of this book, which contains valuable knowledge about Early Modern Sami culture and religion. Isaac Olsen, also as a pioneer, translated Danish religious texts into the Sami language, called to Copenhagen to perform translation work by the Missionary College.    

Author Biography

Liv Helene Willumsen, UiT - The Arctic University of Norway

Liv Helene Willumsen is Professor Emerita at the Department of Archeology, History, Religious Studies and Theology at UiT, University of Tromsø, Norway. Her major field of expertise is seventeenth-century witchcraft trials in Scotland and Northern Norway, with a PhD in History from the University of Edinburgh (2008). Willumsen has written the exhibition texts at Steilneset Memorial in Finnmark, a Memorial for the victims of the Finnmark witchcraft trials. She also has a PhD in Literature from the University of Bergen, Norway (2003) on the Norwegian author Regine Normann (1867–1939). In addition, she has the later years worked with early history of education. Liv Helene Willumsen received in 2019 the Norwegian King’s Medal of Merit for her research.




How to Cite

Willumsen, Liv Helene. 2019. “Isaac Olsen: The First Missionary among the Sami People in Finnmark?”. Nordlit, no. 43 (November):142–160.

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