Saint of the Day – 20 January – Saint Henry of Uppsala (Died c 1156) Martyr, Bishop of Uppsala, (then in eastern Sweden), Missionary. Born in England and died struck with an axe in c 1156 at Nousis, Finland. Patronages – against storms, of Finland. Also known as – Henry of Finland. Henry of Sweden, Heikki, Henrik. Additional Memorial – 18 June (translation of his relics).
According to his Vita (the legend of his life), which was written nearly one hundred years after his death, Henry was born in the early twelfth century and reigned in the See of Uppsala during the time when King Saint Eric of Sweden (also a Martyr) ruled the country. Apparently, Bishop, Henry and the Monarch were good friends and brothers in the Faith and Henry’s biographer blissfully describes this period in Sweden, as Christendom at its finest.
Turning his attention eastward, King Eric, decided to do battle with the pagan Finns, who were separated from Uppsala by the Gulf of Bothnia. Some legends attribute Eric’s campaign against the Finns as retaliatory measures for their plundering activities in Sweden. Other sources say that Eric and Henry worked in tandem and their motivations were largely evangelical. By conquering the Finns, the Bishop and the King hoped to win them over the Christianity.
Whatever their true motivations, King Eric and Bishop Henry conquered Finland and subsequently baptiSed the locals and built Churches. The Catholic Cathedral in Helsinki, Finland’s Capital City, is named in Henry’s honour, to recognise the credit that Finnish Christians give to this saintly Bishop for giving them their faith.
King Eric returned to his home in Swede, but Henry stayed in Finland, as he loved serving as a Missionary in Finland, evangelising and converting numerous numbers.
Henry was murdered by a soldier named Lalli. Lalli was a Baptised Christian who had murdered another soldier. After examining the case, Henry excommunicated Lalli, who flew into a rage and struck Henry with an axe. The murder of Henry is believed to have occurred in the year 1156. Immediately after Henry’s death, his legend records, many miracles began to occur around his tomb and in the surrounding towns – children were raised from the dead, a blind woman’s eyesight was restored, fishermen survived terrible storms at sea.
St Henry is an important figure in the medieval history of Finland and there are a plethora of colourful poems and legends written about his life.
Devotion to St Henry, which spread throughout Finland over subsequent centuries, is a beautiful testament to the pride that countries throughout the globe have taken in their origin stories of the brave men and women who have brought the Good News of Christ to their homeland.
Henry was buried at buried at Nousis in Finland and on 18 June 1300 his relics were translated to Totku but they were stolen by the Russian troops in 1720.
He was Canonised and declared Patron of Finland in 1158 by Pope Adrian IV, who had also been a Missionary in the area.