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Saint Henry


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Saint Henry, died c 1156, Missionary Bishop, martyr, patron saint of Finland. The English-born bishop Henry is the patron saint of the Catholic Church of Finland and the primus of the Finnish episcopal succession. The earliest written sources about Henry are based on the Legend of Saint Henry, which dates from the 1270s. It is the earliest example of written literature in Finland.

The sources reveal that Henry was the Bishop of Upsala and that he came to Finland with the saintly King Eric’s crusading army around 1155. Scholars nevertheless approach both St. Eric’s so-called First Crusade and Henry’s activity as Bishop of Upsala with caution. It is believed possible that he was a Missionary Bishop without a definite diocese.

Information concerning Henry’s missionary work in western Finland and his martyr’s death on the ice of Köyliönjärvi Lake is considered reliable. The peasant [Lalli] is named as Henry’s killer. The day of the murder is, traditionally, 20 January, which was celebrated in memory of Saint Henry in the medieval calendar of saints of Turku Cathedral (according to the Swedish calendar 19 January). Two different stories have survived as to the motives for the murder, both of which describe Lallil’s unwillingness to submit to the actions of the church and its representatives as the reason.

Saint Henry was first buried at Nousiainen. In the 1290s, his remains were removed to Turku, where the bishop’s seat had been moved (from Nousiainen) in 1229. Henry’s position as patron saint of the country was established at around the same time, toward the end of the 13th century. Great masses were said on Saint Henry’s memorial day, and Henry’s cult and legend have been highly influential on both ecclesiastical art and literature in Finland. One of the most important art treasures of the medieval period in Finland is a cenotaph in Nousiainen Church made of brass alloy in Flanders in the 1420s. The cenotaph illustrates Henry’s life and events connected with his martyr’s death.

  • Saint Henry had two yearly feast-days: the day of his death, 20 January (19 January in Swedish calendar), and the day his saintly relics were moved, 18 June.
  • The English-born Henry, who, according to tradition, was killed by the peasant Lalli, is believed to have been the first bishop of Finland. In the medieval period, St. Henry was Finland’s national saint, and the anniversary of his death, 20 January (19 January in Swedish calendar), was the highest feast-day in the calendar of saints of the diocese of Turku, which then covered the whole of Finland. A lively pilgrim cult grew up around the legend of St. Henry.
  • Missale Aboense, the medieval missal of the diocese of Turku is the first example of printed literature in Finland, and the country’s only incunabula….Finnish features are, in addition to Bitz’s foreword, a calendar of the diocese of Turku and an anonymous wordcarving linked with the foreword that shows the patron saint of Finland, Saint Henry, with his murderer, Lalli, at his feet, accompanied by Bisho Konrad Bitz and the cathedral dean, Magnus Särkilahti (died 1500).

Jussi Nuorteva, Scholar of old literature, science journalist, from “Finland, a Cultural Encyclopedia”, by Finnish Literature Society

June Pelo 1998

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