Saint of the Day – 18 May – Saint Eric of Sweden (c 1120-1161) King of Sweden, Martyr, Confessor, Defender of the oppressed. Born in c 1120 and died on 18 May 1161 at Uppsala, Sweden by being beheaded as he left Holy Mass. Patronages – Sweden, the Capital of Sweden, Stockholm and of farmers. Also known as – Henry of Sweden, Eric The Lawgiver, Eric IX.
The only full account of Eric’s life is a Hagiographic dating from the late 13th century. It writes that Eric was of royal blood and was unanimously chosen King of Sweden. It also states that Eric reigned for ten years, which would put the beginning of his reign in c 1150. If this is correct ,he would have been a rival King to Sverker I, who had ascended the throne in c. 1132 and was murdered in 1156. At any rate, it is assumed that Eric was recognised in most Provinces after 1156. While his paternity is obscure, there is good evidence, that he strengthened his claims to the throne, by marriage to the Danish princess Christina Björnsdotter, a granddaughter of King Inge the Elder. They were blessed with four children.
Eric did much to consolidate Christianity in his realm. The only reliable source mentioning his reign is a Cistercian chronicle from c 1200. Quite contrary to the impression of pro-clerical policy of the Eric Hagiography, it says that King Eric and Queen Christina harassed the Monks of Varnhem Abbey in Västergötland. Some Monks left for Denmark where Vitskøl Abbey was founded in 1158. After this, however, Eric and Christina changed their stance and allowed Varnhem to be reorganised under Abbot Gerhard of Alvastra Abbey. An early 13th-century source adds that he made donations to Nydala Abbey in Småland.
Eric is attributed with the initial spread of the Church and the Christian faih into Finland, “which at this time was pagan and did Sweden great harm.” In an effort to conquer and convert the Finns, he led the First Swedish Crusade east of the Baltic Sea. “Then Eric the Saint asked the people of Finland to accept Christianity and make peace with him. But when they refused to accept it, he fought against them and conquered them by the sword, avenging the blood of the Christian men which they had spilled often and for a long time. And when he had scored such an honourable victory he prayed to God, falling on his knees with tears in his eyes. Then one of his good men asked why he cried, since he should rejoice over the honourable victory ,which he had won over the enemies of Jesus Christ and the holy faith. He then replied: I am happy and praise God since He gave us victory. But I greatly regret that so many souls were lost today, who could have gained eternal life if they had accepted Christianity.” Eric persuaded an English Bishop sT Henry of Uppsala to remain in Finland to evangelise the Finns, later becoming a martyr too.
Eric is portrayed as the ideal of a just ruler, who supported those who were oppressed by the mighty and expelled the rude and unfair from his Kingdom. He was responsible for codifying the laws of his Kingdom, which became known as King Eric’s Law (or the Code of Uppland). Additionally, it is believed that he established a monastic chapter in Old Uppsala, begun by Benedictines who had come from the Danish Abbey of Odense or from Vreta Abbey.
According to Eric’s Hagiography, the Devil inspired Magnus Henriksson, who wished to exercise his claims to the throne, in his machinations. He used gifts and grand promises to attract Swedish nobles, including “a mighty man in the kingdom”. If this is based on sound tradition it may mean that Magnus allied with Karl of the rival House of Sverker. This assumption is supported by a statement in a late medieval chronicle.
Unbeknownst to the King, the allies gathered a considerable army and accosted Eric near Uppsala when he attended Mass on the Feast of the Ascension in May 1160. The King, being informed of the approach of the enemy, heard Mass to the end, then armed himself and the few men at hand and went out to meet Magnus’ troops. He was pulled off his horse onto the ground by the swarming rebels, who taunted and stabbed him, then beheaded him.
A papal bull to his son, Canute I confirms that he was killed by unspecified enemies. The short chronicle in the Västgötalagen from c 1240 says: “The twelfth [King] was Eric. He was rashly killed in an unhappy moment. He always gave a good example while he lived and God rewarded him well. Now his soul is at rest with God and his Angels and his bones rest in Uppsala. And he has, with God’s help, made and manifested many precious miracles.”
Eric’s son Canute I, was eventually able to reclaim the throne and established the House of Eric as the ruling dynasty and used the memory of his father, to anchor the Christian faith and his regime.
The assassinated King Eric was buried in the Old Uppsala Church, which he had rebuilt. In about 1167, as his son began to take power, Eric’s body was enshrined. Eric’s son Canute encouraged veneration of his father as a Martyr. The miracle of a fountain springing from the earth where the King’s head fell became a site of pilgrimage. In 1273, a century after Canute consolidated Sweden, Eric’s relics and regalia were transferred to the present Cathedral of Uppsala, built on the Martyrdom site. The translation both displayed and extended, the depth of his religious cult. The Catholic Cathedral in Stockhol, is dedicated to Saint. King Eric.
St Eric is the Patron Saint of Sweden and of its capital, Stockholm and his crowned head is depicted in the City’s Coat of Arms.
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