Attention to all my Swedish friends out there!
Today the church remembers the 12th Century Saint: Erik IX Jedvardsson, King and Martyr.
St. Erik (you may call him King) ruled over a great bit of what is now Sweden, and is remembered as an advocate for the faith throughout Scandinavia. He became the subject of quite a bit of legend and lore, outgrowing his brief moment in history to live on in perpetuity.
St. Erik had, in his royal and religious zeal, the idea that the Finns needed both a ruler and a new way of being in the world. He and St. Henry (Jan 19th) set out to do so, with St. Henry becoming the de facto founder of the Finnish church through that quest of 1155.
Though St. Erik was obviously ambitious, he was known more-so for being just and kind, especially to those who called him king. He instituted salutary laws and, in response to his faith, ordinances that meant to help the poor, the sick, and the infirm, creating an ancient version of the “social safety-net,” almost unheard of for the day.
The lore around St. Erik’s martyrdom is legion, most of them having him fall at the hands of a pagan Danish prince. A prominent story goes that, as St. Erik was celebrating the Feast of the Ascension, he got word that a Danish army was nearby intending to kill him. Not wanting to abandon the service mid-Mass, he is noted as saying, “We’ll finish the Eucharist and then keep the feast elsewhere.” The Danish army was not on the same timetable and, before Mass was over, rushed the church and beheaded the goodly king.
Or, so the story goes.
Though many saints compete for the hearts of the Swedes, St. Erik came to be chief amongst them. Along with St. Henry of Finland and St. Olaf of Norway, he stands as one of the iconic symbols of not just the faith of the land, but the people there.
St. Erik is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that ambition does not always mean abuse of power. He was ambitious, yes, but he used his power to watch over the last and the least.
Let those with ears to hear, hear.
-historical bits from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations