A Swedish preacher and botanist, founder of Laestadianism, an extremely pious form of Lutheranism.

Lars Levi Laestadius was born in 1800 in Arjeplog, Sweden. His family was extremely poor and his father an alcoholic, who tried several occupations without success. Finally, the family was forced to move in with Lars Levi's half-brother Carl-Erik, an amateur botanist, who sparked Lars Levi's interest in plants.

In 1819 Lars Levi entered the prestigious Uppsala university to study botanism. His first botanical book, containing descriptions of plant life in the Helgeland coast region in Norway, won Laestadius international recognition and caused the Swedish Academy of Science and Letters to fund his subsequent field trips. During his later life, Laestadius discovered two previously unknown plants from Norway: the lifelong saxifrage (saxifraga paniculata) and Laestadius' poppy (papaver laestadianum).

After a few years in the Uppsala university, Laestadius started to study theology and became a priest. In 1826 he became the vicar of Karesuando in Swedish Lapland, where he met Brita Katarina Alstadius, whom he married in 1827. The pair had fifteen children.

In 1845 Laestadius was overcome by a religious crisis. Ever since his days in the university, he had been unhappy about the inability of the traditional Lutheranism to affect the moral and social lives of the Sami people, the extremely poor natives of Lapland.

After the crisis, Laestadius started a career as a revivalist preacher among the Sami people. His message was as passionate as it was urgent. As a clergyman, he spoke out strongly againts the evils of drinking, theft and fornication, describing the horrors of hell and urging people to repent and seek God's forgiveness. Eventually, his sermons created a revivalist movement, Laestadianism, which spread rapidly from Sweden to Norway and Finland.

Laestadianism is centered around the idea of congregation. Members are required to confess their sins before the congregation, which alone has the power to grant absolution and forgiveness. The words in the Bible are regarded as dead - only preaching can convey the original biblical message and ensure eternal life after death. The movement is led by layman preachers. During the mass, people may be so affected by the preaching that they often start shaking, shouting or crying.

All Laestadians are required to live ascetic, pure lives, free from worldly interferences like alcohol, television and mindless consumerism. In Scandinavia, Laestadians are perhaps best known for having unusually large families, since all methods of birth control are condemned. Today, there are about 100 000 Laestadians around the world, mainly in Scandinavia and United States.



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