Kappelniitty as Part of the Vanhakartano Manor in Yläne
The earliest traces of human activity in Kappelniitty date back thousands of years. The area is known to have been settled from the Iron Age onwards. Kappelniitty forms part of the central dwelling site formed towards the end of the Iron Age in 800–900 AD at the latest on the southern shores of Lake Pyhäjärvi in Säkylä. The settlement comprised several dwelling sites and cemeteries. They were the origins of the area's settlement that has continued up to the present day.
From the end of the Iron Age to the beginning of the Middle Ages, there were some 20 houses in the area. One of them grew into a large estate, the Vanhakartano Manor in Yläne (Yläneen kartano or Yläneen Vanhakartano) (www.poytya.fi, in Finnish). The earliest records of the manor date back to 1381. The manor comprised the tenant farmer villages of Mäenpää, Vainionperä, Lietsa, Haveri and Savo, situated along the River Yläneenjoki to the south. Kappelniitty is situated on the site of the former Mäenpää tenant farmer village. In the north, the estate bordered on the Köyliö–Nousiainen road, which was used as early as the Middle Ages and soon became known as St Henry's Way because many locations related to the cult of St Henry, or Bishop Henry of Finland, were situated along the road.
The church of Yläne parish, situated approximately one kilometre from Kappelniitty, was built in 1782 and it is known for certain that at least two churches preceded it on the same site. According to local tradition, there are two other ancient church sites in Yläne: uncertainty remains as to the location of the Vimmanmäki site but the position of the church or chapel in Kappelniitty has never been in question. No precise information is available on when the chapel was built or when it was demolished.
In Southwestern Finland, ancient parish churches were typically built on the lands of an Iron Age estate or medieval manor. This tradition was clearly observed in Yläne – Kappelniitty is concrete evidence that this was the case.
Traces of the Past
Kappelniitty has long been known but the site was not explored until the 1990s, when interest in the area was raised by land use planning. Test excavations revealed features such as stone structures and an ancient field under a thick layer of cultured soil. A local resident had found Iron Age ceramics on site even before the excavation. With the assistance of local residents, the foundation of a possible churchyard wall was discovered in 2000. Upon further examination, the site proved significant and was preserved in two stages in 1995 and 2000.
Kappelniitty is one of the very few places in Finland where the borders of ancient terraced fields are visible above ground. On the basis of grains of barley and club wheat found on site, it has been concluded that the site was cultivated as early as the late Merovingian to the early Viking Age, i.e. from the 700s to 800s.
The chapel was built close to the site of the medieval Mäenpää tenant farmer village. One of the two medieval houses in the village vanished during the 1700s, but the other is still a working farm. The remains of buildings at the southern end of Kappelniitty are probably connected to the abandoned Mäenpää house. The tar pit at the northern end of the area is younger than the other antiquities on the site.
Today, the site is largely overgrown, which makes it difficult to see the ancient relics, particularly in the summer.