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Henry of Finland

(d. 1156)

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(d. 1156),

bishop and martyr; patron saint of Finland. English by birth, he was consecrated bishop of Upssala (Sweden) by Nicholas Breakspear, papal legate to Scandinavia and later Pope Adrian IV, at the council of Linkôping in 1152. Previously Henry belonged to Nicholas's household. Warlike expeditions of the Finns into Sweden provoked a punitive expedition led by King Eric IX in 1154; Henry accompanied him and the project was called a crusade. Eric offered peace and the Christian faith to the Finns, who refused both. The Swedes won the ensuing battle.

Henry baptized the defeated Finns in the spring of Kuppis near Abo and stayed behind to continue missionary work, while Eric returned to Sweden. Henry built a church at Nousis and made it the centre of his work. After a few years he met a violent death. Lalli, a convert Finn, murdered a Swedish soldier and was excommunicated by Henry. He was so furious that he killed Henry with an axe, traditionally on Kirkkosaari (Church Island) in Lake Kjulo. Henry was buried at Nousis; miracles followed at his tomb.

On 18 June 1300 his body was translated to Abo cathedral; in 1370 a magnificent Flemish sepulchral brass was placed on his original tomb, vividly depicting his life, death, and miracles. This unique monument still survives. In medieval Finnish churches Henry was frequently depicted as treading on his murderer, Lallis. These are said to be Finland's main contribution to medieval iconography. The cult of St Henry spread to Sweden where Upssala cathedral has a cycle of mural paintings devoted to him and Eric, and to Norway. One English chapel was dedicated to him in the Carmelite church at Great Yarmouth. He also has a place in the important series of paintings of the English martyrs, executed in 1582 for the Venerable English College, Rome, by Niccolo Circignani. Henry's relics were removed from Abo by the Russians in 1720. He was specially invoked in storms by the local seal-fishers. The union of Finland and Sweden accomplished by Eric and Henry lasted until the 14th century. Feast: 20 January; translation, 18 June.

AA.SS. Ian. II (1643), 613–14; T. Borenius, ‘St Henry of Finland: an Anglo-Scandinavian saint’, Archaeol. Jnl., lxxxvii (1930), 340–56; M. R. James, ‘The sepulchral brass of St Henry of Finland’, Cambridge Antiq. Soc. Proceedings, x (1901–2), 215–22; C. J. A. Oppermann, English Missionaries in Sweden and Finland (1937); A. Malin, Der Heiligenkalender Finlands (1925).

Subjects: Religion

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