Today Finland is celebrating the 100th Anniversary of its independence, and we would like to congratulate the people of Finland on this momentous occasion!

Through its history there have been three different awarding systems used on the territory of Finland. The country was under Swedish rule from the 12th Century till 1809. When in 1748 the Swedish awarding system was established, many Finns were among the first recipients. In 1809 Finland became the Grand Duchy of Finland as part of the Russian Empire. From 1809 till 1917, that witnessed the collapse of the Empire and subsequent Finnish independence, Russian orders were bestowed on its territory. As soon as Finland became independent these orders were abolished and the country instituted its own awards.

You can get a comprehensive view of the modern Finnish awarding system at the permanent exhibition of  the Coin and Medal Cabinet of The Historical Museum of the City of Turku/Åbo  at Turku Castle  (Photo: Tom Bergroth)

The first among the Finnish national awards were the Cross of Liberty and Medal of Liberty. They were instituted on 4 March 1918, on the recommendation of the then Commander-in-Chief of the Finnish White Guards, Baron Carl Gustaf Mannerheim. The insignia was designed by the famous Finnish painter Akseli Gallen-Kallela, but Mannerheim himself made the final changes and decision on the form of the cross of the badge. Up until January 1919, the Cross was used to reward supporters of the White Government fighting in the Finnish Civil War. A large number of foreigners, especially Swedes and Germans, who played a significant role in the war, were among those awarded.

The organisational structure of the Order of the Cross of Liberty – brilliant visual display at the exhibition of  the Coin and Medal Cabinet of The Historical Museum of the City of Turku/Åbo  at Turku Castle (Photo: C. Lapinsh)

Cross of Mourning at  the exhibition at Turku Castle

The awards were revived for the Winter War fought against the Soviet Union on 8th December 1939 and were established as an military order in 1940. On Marshal Mannerheim’s instructions, all wounded soldiers were to be commended for their sacrifice with decorations of the Order. The 4th Class Cross of Liberty with Black Ribbon was given to the next-of-kin of all fallen soldiers and came to be known as the ‘Mourning Star’. In 1942, the Medal of Merit 1st Class with Black Ribbon – the Mourning Medal (surumitali) – was created for this purpose.

During World War II, it became evident that Finland needed an award which could be granted strictly in exceptional circumstances – regardless of military rank or civilian status – for extraordinary bravery, achievement of particularly significant objectives in combat, or for especially well-conducted military operations. In 1942, the Mannerheim Cross, First and Second Class, of the Order of the Cross of Liberty, was created for just such a purpose. It was awarded personally by the Marshal himself. Of the 600,000 men who served in the wars, only 191 were made Knights of the Mannerheim Cross, Second Class, and only Marshal Mannerheim himself and General Erik Heinrichs were awarded both First and Second Class crosses. Four knights were decorated with this award twice; they had a small badge of two crossed batons which they wore above the Cross.

Mannerheim Cross and other awards and decorations of Artillery General Vilho Nenonenat the Museo Militaria in Hämeenlinna
​ (Photo: Sirkka Ojala/Museo Militaria)

The Order of the White Rose of Finland is the second most senior order of Finland. It was established by Carl Gustaf Mannerheim, at that time the Regent of Finland, on 28 January 1919; its Statutes date from 16 May 1919. These dates were not random – they correspond to the dates of the beginning and end of the Finnish Civil War a year earlier. The Order of the White Rose was supposed to facilitate consolidation and replace the Order of the Cross of Liberty, which by that time was no longer conferred.

The Order has five classes  and two medals. Additionally, there were the bronze and silver crosses. The first has never been awarded and the other, originally awarded to women only, is today the Cross of Merit of the Order. The Order may be conferred on Finnish citizens for civilian services and on foreigners for services to Finland. In times of war, it may be conferred for bravery in the field. The motto of the Order isIsänmaan hyväksi (For the Fatherland).

All of Marshal Mannerheim’s awards, including the only insignia of Grand Cross of the Order of the Finnish Rose with collar, swords and diamonds, are displayed at the Mannerheim Museum
(Photo: Tom Bergroth)

Insignia of the Order of the White Rose of Finland, Grand Cross, presumably awarded in 1960 to Italian President Giovanni Gronchi on display at the Tallinn Museum of Orders of Knighthood (Photo Tallinn Museum). The use of swastikas, or fylfots, in the design of Finnish orders’ insignia is not linked in any way to the Nazi emblemIn Scandinavia it was used from the early Viking period when it was known as Thor’s Hammer or as the Sun Wheel. It was constantly used in Finno-Ugric and Latvian art up until the 1920’s. In 1918 famous Finnish painter Akseli Gallen-Kallela used the symbol according to its original meaning in his designs of the insignia of the Finnish orders.

The collar of the Order is reserved for the Grand Master; it may also be conferred on foreign Heads of State. The collar consists of a golden chain with 9 white heraldic roses, symbolising Finland’s nine provinces, and 9 stylised spruce branches (which replaced the original swastikas in 1963). The Order may also be conferred with diamonds and in wartime with swords for bravery. Marshal Mannerheim was the only one to receive the Grand Cross of the Order with collar, swords and diamonds. Grand Cross with diamonds was conferred only six times, one of the recipients was Jean Sibelius, famous Finnish composer. ​

Badge of the Order of the Lion of Finland Commander, 1st Class, Civil Division
(Photo Tallinn Museum)

Star of the Order of the Lion of Finland Commander, 1st Class, Civil Division
(Photo Tallinn Museum)

The third official order is the Order of the Lion of Finland. It was established on 11 September 1942, by the President of Finland Risto Ryti, primarily to preserve the prestige of the Orders of the White Rose of Finland and the Cross of Liberty, which could have been diminished if granted too frequently. Despite the fact that the Order of the Lion was created during World War II, it is mainly conferred for exceptional civil service.
Most of the Order’s military merit awards were given to foreigners between 1942 and 1946. The Order has five classes. Associated with the Order are the Cross of Merit of the Order of the Finnish Lion and The Pro Finlandia Medal, awarded to authors and artists (the reverse has the inscription Pro Finlandia – For Finland and the recipient’s name). The insignia of Knight and Knight 1st Class may be awarded to Olympic winners with a ribbon bar bearing five golden Olympic rings. ​

Badges of the orders of the Finnish White Rose and Lion at the Museo Militaria in Hämeenlinna
(Photo: Sirkka Ojala/Museo Militaria)

The President of Finland is the Grand Master of the Orders of the White Rose and Lion of Finland, both have their festival days on the 6th December. In his capacity as the Commander-in-Chief of the Finnish Defence Forces the President is also Grand Master of the Order of the Cross of Liberty, which celebrates its festival day of the 4th of June – Mannerheim’s birthday.

At state functions the President of Finland wears the Grand Cross of the Order of the White Rose of Finland on its collar and the Grand Cross of the Order of the Cross of Liberty on a yellow sash (signifying a peacetime decoration) hanging from the right shoulder to the left hip. On the left side of the jacket the President wears the third Grand Cross and the Star of the Order of the White Rose of Finland above the Stars of the Order of the Cross of Liberty and the Order of the Lion of Finland.

You can see the insignia of the Finnish orders in these museums:

In Estonia

Estonian War Museum – General Laidoner Museum
In the Estonian War Museum in Viimsi, visitors can see the Grand Cross of the Order of the White Rose that was bestowed upon the Estonian Commander-in-Chief, General Johan Laidoner, as well as the Commander First Class cross conferred upon Major General Aleksander Tõnisson, and the Commander crosses of colonels Jaan Junkur and Arved Engmaa.
http://www.esm.ee/

The Tallinn Museum of Orders of Knighthood
In our museum we have gathered a unique collection of badges, stars, collars and other decorations – so called insignia – by the means of which we would like to tell you the history of orders. And although the majority of the insignia presented in these rooms belong to royal, religious or military orders of knighthood, you will also be able to see here many State decorations. Visitors can see the insignia of the Finnish Cross of Liberty, the Order of the White Rose, and the Order of the Lion of Finland.
http://www.tallinnmuseum.com/
In Finland:

Museo Militaria
Museo Militaria is a war history museum showcasing the history of Finnish artillery, engineering and signalling from the Middle Ages to modern times. The exhibition also includes hands-on displays where you can try, for example, telegraphing, gun laying and the weight of teller mines.
http://www.museomilitaria.fi

Turku Castle
The comprehensive exhibition of Turku Castle presents the castle’s history from 1280 up to the present day. The elegant rooms of the Bailey are styled with periodic furniture, costumes and treasures of the museum’s collection. The current exhibition of the Coin and Medal Cabinet of The Historical Museum of the City of Turku/Åbo  was opened here in 1998.
https://www.turunlinna.fi

The Mannerheim Museum
The Museum is situated in the house of Baron Gustaf Mannerheim, Marshal of Finland, where he lived from 1924 until his death in 1951. With the exception of three exhibition rooms on the first floor, the museum reflects Mannerheim’s home exactly as it was in the early 1940s. The unique collection of the Marshal’s medals and decorations on display in the museum reflects his standing not only in Finland but in other countries as well. (Guided tours in 6 languages, open Friday – Sunday)
http://www.mannerheim-museo.fi/

In France:

The Museum of the Legion of Honour and Orders of Knighthood
An amazing display of insignia, costumes and other objects related to Orders of Knighthood from all over the world. The full set of decorations from the Finnish orders was recently gifted to the museum through the Finnish Embassy in Paris.