Sanctus Henricus

From medieval

by Outi Merisalo

Bishop martyr ca. 1150, buried at Nousis, transferred to Åbo.

(1) Legenda

Legenda de S. Henrico (ca. 1300)


  • • HEIKKILÄ, T. 2005: Pyhän Henrikin Legenda (Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seuran Toimituksia 1039), Helsinki.
  • HEIKKILÄ, T. 2009: Sankt Henrikslegenden (Svenska litteratursällskapet i Finland), Helsingfors / Stockholm.

Date and place

The author of this liturgical Latin legend, consisting of lectiones de Sancto Henrico, is an unknown clerk. There is no explicit evidence in the text that it would have been written by someone identifying himself as a resident of Finland; Sweden is specifically referred to as patria, whereas Finland is simply Finlandia (Uppsala, University Library, C 292, 94vb, 95ra).

The section on miracles (lectiones 5 to 9) contains one miracle involving a Swedish Franciscan friar (lectio 7) and points thus to the period subsequent to the arrival of the Franciscan Order in Sweden, i.e. after 1233 (Visby). The cult of St. Henry was forcefully promoted by Bishop Magnus I (r. 1291–1308) who not only consecrated (according to a tradition doubted by MALIN 1925, 207 n. 1) the new cathedral in Turku in 1300 but also had the bones of St. Henry transferred from the church of Nousiainen (Sw. Nousis). The office of St. Henry, consisting, among others, of these nine lectiones, was integrated in the new liturgy based on Dominican practice (MALIN 1925, 197–199). The office of Saint Henry must have been composed between 1292, the year of the letter of indulgence of Nicholas IV for the benefit of Turku (Sw. Åbo) cathedral (HAUSEN 1890, 16), and 1296, the year of the first mention of St. Henry as co-patron (with Virgin Mary) of the cathedral in a letter of indulgence of Boniface VIII (HAUSEN 1890, 18; see also NEOVIUS 1912, 109). Because of the extensive section on miracles (lectiones 5 to 9), the legend might be connected with this process and draw directly on evidence justifying Henry’s claim to sanctity. MALIN (1925, 210) also pointed out similarities to the lectiones of the office of St. Erik, from ca. 1290. The legend may thus reasonably be dated to the 1290s and seen as an element of the bishop’s campaign to promote the official cult of St. Henry as part of a more general tendency to regulate the forms of the cults of the regni patroni of the church province of Uppsala (i.e. St. Erik, St. Henry, St. Helena and St. Eskil, MALIN 1925, 198–199). Earlier, the cult of St. Henry had probably used a general type of office for a holy bishop and martyr, to be found in the commune sanctorum (MALIN 1925, 212; this strategy had been adopted for the cult of St. Olaf in Norway at the end of the eleventh century).

The oldest document dated in reference to St. Henry's feast (in Finland 20 January, elsewhere 19 January) is from 1335 (MALIN 1925, 210; HAUSEN 1890, 77). The earliest manuscript sources for the office of St. Henry are datable to ca. 1350 (for the text, see NEOVIUS 1912, 35).

Summary of contents

Henry, a man of English origin (de Anglia oriundus, “from England,” C 292, fol. 94vb) and of saintly life, was bishop of Uppsala in the reign of Saint Erik (Erik Jedvarsson). He joined Saint Erik on a punitive expedition against heathen Finns (plebs Finlandie tunc ceca et crudelis gentilitas, “the people of Finland, at that time blind and cruel pagans,” ibid. 95a) [in 1154 (“First Crusade” against Finns)]; St. Erik had defeated the Finns, baptized them and founded churches. Henry stayed on after Erik’s victory and subsequent return to Sweden (ad irrigandum ymbre celestis doctrine nouellam neophitorum plantulam, et ad coroborandum dei cultum in partibus illis, “in order to water with the rain of heavenly doctrine the young plant of recent converts, and to consolidate the worship of God in those parts,” ibid., fol. 95b). When reproaching a murderer for his deeds (in popular tradition called Lalli), he incurred the murderous wrath of the latter (infelix vir ille sanguinum ... in ministrum itaque iusticie et sue salutis zelatorem funestus insiliuit, ipsumque crudeliter trucidauit, “that unhappy, bloodied man ... and fatally attacked the minister of justice, the promotor of his salvation, and cruelly assassinated him,” ibid., fol. 95va). The manyfold murderer put Henry’s mitre on his head, boasting that he had felled a bear, but could not take it off without his hair and scalp coming off, too. Miracles (the miraculous preservation of Henry’s finger with the episcopal ring, chopped off by the murderer; and eight others, aliis quamplurimis signis et prodigiis, “with other very numerous signs and prodigies,” ibid., fol. 96va) followed his death.

There are no historical sources for Saint Henry. His English birth is repeated by several medieval sources, e.g. the Palmskiöld fragment of Uppsala University Library dated by to the fourteenth century, see HEININEN 1988; SRS III:2, 132: Henricus anglicus anno Domini millesimo centesimo quadragesimo octauo upsalie quartus episcopus prefficitur. Anno MCL:o cum sancto Eriko Finlandiam venit in estate et statim yeme sequente Kiwlo martirizatur miraculis coruscando, Nowsis sepelitur, ad Abo transfertur, “The Englishman Henry was appointed fourth bishop at Uppsala in A.D. 1148. In the year 1150 he came to Finland with Saint Erik in summer and very soon during the following winter was martyred at Köyliö (Sw. Kjulo) with conspicuous miracles, was buried at Nousiainen and transferred to Turku,” HAUSEN 1910–1935, 1,19 a; MALINIEMI 1945 (Henricus anglicus “the Englishman Henry”). A Brother Ingemarus states in a sermon in 1377: veniens de Anglia in Sueciam (“when coming from England to Sweden,” MALINIEMI 1942, 102); other homilies state Exi de terra tua, s. de Anglia (“Come from your land, i.e. England,” Uppsala, University Library, C 7 and C 15:) Dominus enim duxit eum de Anglia, vbi oriundus erat (“The Lord brought him from England, his country of origin”). Ortus in Britannia (“from Britain”) is the term used by a sequence of Henry’s officium (NEOVIUS 1912, 35–39). This information is also contained in the Legenda nova (see below).

According to Olaus Petri (d. 1552) he joined the retinue of Nicholas Breakspear, papal legate to Scandinavia and later Pope Hadrian IV. In the same year, he was consecrated bishop at the council of Linköping.

Medieval reception and transmission

The legend is contained in the following manuscripts (see now also Heikkilä 2005 & 2009): Stockholm, Royal Library, A 56, s. xvi in. (Nicolaus Jacobi Byrkop, maybe in the school of the Brigittine monastery of Naantali (Sw. Nådendal),see MALIN 1925, 137–138); Uppsala, University Library, C 15, fol. 174–76v; C 23, fol. 65v–66 (incomplete, ends: et inuocans sanctum h. uisum Recepit); C 292, fol. 94vb–96vb (1495, Michael Nicolai); C 302 (from Vadstena, after 1476), 293v–300 (incomplete, ends palma triumphi feliciter introiuit); Dresden, Hofbibliothek, A 182; Helsinki, University Library, Lect. B, s. xv in.–med. For more detailed information about the manuscripts, see HEIKKILÄ 2005.

Legenda nova de S. Henrico (fifteenth century)


A. MALINIEMI (ed.) 1942: De Sancto Henrico episcopo et martyre. Die mittelalterliche Literatur über den Apostel Finnlands 2. Legenda nova. Sermones (Suomen Kirkkohistoriallisen Seuran toimituksia 45.2), Helsinki, 85–98.

Date and place

A rubric in the only known manuscript maintains that this text was composed by a monk (per quendam fratrem noviter compilata, “recently compiled by a brother,” Uppsala, University Library, C 292, fol. 82rb). Since the manuscript comes from the library of the Brigittine house of Vadstena and the author is simply referred to as frater, MALINIEMI (1942) supposed that he too belonged to the order of Saint Saviour founded by St. Bridget. Since the author speaks of hec mater ecclesia “this mother church” (ll. 3–4), repository of the saint’s sacra exuuia “sacred remains,” he seems to address a community (karissimi “dear brothers,” e.g. l. 1) connected with the Cathedral of Saint Henry at Turku (Sw. Åbo), which had become the main shrine of the cult of the saint with the translation of his reliques from Nousiainen (Sw. Nousis) in 1300 (see also PIRINEN 1956, 465). The author also identifies himself as a resident of Finland, see e.g. l. 5 illustrata tota patria (“the motherland [i.e. Finland] made famous”), l. 127 in terra nostra Finlandie, “in our country of Finland”; more passages in MALINIEMI 1942, 4 n. 2. There are no direct references in the text to the only Finnish Brigittine monastery, that of Vallis Gratiae (in Naantali, Sw. Nådendal), established in 1441. MALINIEMI (1942, 10–11) tentatively suggested Bishop Magnus Tawast (r. 1412–1450, d. 1452) as a possible candidate for authorship, though he admitted that the Diocese of Turku was well provided with cultivated clerics in the second half of the fifteenth century. The problem of authorship remains unsolved.

The section containing our text in Uppsala, University Library, C 292 (parchment, fol. 82b–85va) dates from the second half of the fifteenth century and was written in Vadstena by Hand B as identified by MALINIEMI (1942, 3 and 4). The last part of the manuscript, fol. 85va–114vb, bears the date of 1495. The date of the legend is referred to as nouiter (“recently”) in the rubric fol. 85va. MALINIEMI's suggestion, 1440–1490, is based on the hypothesis of the author being a Brigittine himself and the monastery of Vallis Gratiae having been founded in 1441, though, as we have seen, this affiliation is based on the word frater (“brother”) and the fact that the text has been preserved in a Vadstena manuscript. Nouiter might reasonably be taken to cover the fifteenth century.

Summary of contents

The Legenda nova represents a slightly more detailed and rhetorical version of the legend of St. Henry as compared to the thirteenth-century version. As in the older text, Henry is identified as an Englishman (nacione britannicus existens, “being British by birth,” l. 5) on his way back from a pilgrimage to Rome when he is intercepted by the legate Nicholas Breakspear and travels with him to Scandinavia. Appointed bishop of Uppsala, he was particularly appreciated by King Erik (Jedvarsson) (Rex vero sanctus ipsum pontificem pre ceteris diligebat, “the holy King loved the bishop above all others,” ll. 26–27) and joined his military expedition against the inhabitatores terre Finlandensis variis ritibus gentilitatis et erroribus ... excecati (“inhabitants of the land of Finland blinded by different pagan customs and errors,” ll. 106–7). After Erik’s triumphant return to Sweden, Henry remained in Finland to evangelize its pagan inhabitants (cepit primus in terra nostra Finlandie margaritas articulorum fidei in populo spargere viamque salutis eterne monstrare predicando, “he was the first man who, preaching, started spreading the jewels of the articles of faith among the people and showing the way of eternal salvation,” ll. 127–29). After considerable success (Fuit itaque sancti pontificis predicacio in populo multum fructuosa, “the preaching of the holy bishop was very fruitful among the people,” ll. 191–92) he moved over to the province of Satakunta (in provinciam Satagundie, l. 276) where he castigated a murderer (homicidam predictum sanctus et venerabilis pater Henricus monitis salutaribus pulsauit, “the saintly and venerable father Henry castigated the above-mentioned murderer with healthy reproach,” ll. 290–91). Instead of mending his ways, this murderer killed Henry (infelix ille homicida animo precipiti concitatus et malicia in christum Domini insiliuit ipsumque crudeliter trucidauit, “that unhappy murderer, incited by his unruly mind and evil, attacked the Lord's Anointed and killed him cruelly,” ll. 297–300). He was soon to meet his fate: on taking off Henry’s mitre, putting it on his own head and maintaining that he had caught a bear (the scalp of which was taken off by hunters), he was punished by not being able to lay down the mitre without his own scalp coming off (cutem et carnem a testa capitis tunc simul adherentes birreto amouebat, “he removed from his head the scalp and the flesh clinging to his cap,” ll. 325–26). Another miracle happened soon afterwards: in spring a finger, with the ring of a bishop on it, was found inside a piece of ice that had not melted in the sun; the exact location of the finger was announced by a raven (corvo super eum crocitante, “the crow crowing upon it,” l. 339). Henry’s death occurred according to the legend on 19 January 1152 n.s. (anno Domini mcl primo, die xiiij kalendas februarii, “in the year 1151, on 19 January,” l. 350) and his reliques were translated to Turku cathedral on 18 June 1154 (anno Domini mcliiij, xiiij kalendas iulij, l. 352) where numerous miracles subsequently occurred.

Composition and style

The earlier legend was known to the author, who has included some verbatim quotations, such as 121, “O quantus ardor diuini amoris – quantus ardor diuini amoris”; 300, “ipsumque crudeliter trucidauit”; 335, “coruo super ipsum crocitante – coruo super eum crocitante”; see also ll. 30–34, 106–27, 282–303, 315–26, 335–47).The whole of the legend resembles a sermon and was probably used as one (MALINIEMI 1942, 5). Untypically, however, it is divided into seventeen lectiones and the prose is characterised by the use of the cursus, just as the other legends of Swedish national saints, including the Legenda de Sancto Henrico (MALINIEMI 1942, 5–6). The structure of the legend alternates between narrative passages (ll. 5–45, 106–50, 175–85, 192–303, 312–56) and strongly rhetorical moral reflexion.

Henry is the paragon of virtues: devout (deuocionis affectu, “by the love of devotion,” l. 6; seruiuit autem affeccione pura, “but he served with pure affection,” l. 44), God-fearing and humble (in timore Dei et spiritu humilitatis, “in the fear of God and spirit of humility,” l. 12; non crescere fastigio, sed humilitate descrescere, vt fieret seruus et minister hominum propter Christum, “not to grow in importance, but become lesser with humility, so that he might beocme the servant and valet of men because of Christ,” l. 40), of saintly and just life (sancte et iuste tam sibi bene viuendo quam gregi commisso proficiendo intendere cepit, “he started to concentrate on living in a saintly and just way as well as leaving to go the herd entrusted to him,” ll. 13–14; honestate morum et vita sancta, “with excellence of manners and saintly life,” l. 23; in omni sanctimonia et iusticia, “in all saintliness and justice,” l. 43; sobrie ... vixit ad carnis lasciuiam reprimendam, “he lived a frugal life in order to curb the lecherousness of flesh,” l. 59; innocenciam et beneficenciam, “innocence and charitable works,” ll. 68–69; pietate motus, “moved by piety,” l. 75; cupiebat enim mori pro amore iusticie, si necesse foret, et pro amore illius, qui ob amorem omnium semel benigne mori dignatus est, “for he wanted to die for the love of justice, if it were necessary, and for the love of Him that once for the love of everybody kindly daigned to die,” l. 119–20; quia quod ore predicauit exemplo ostendit, et viam vite, quam edocuit, ipse prior actu probaret, “because what he preached with his mouth he showed by his example, and first showed the truthfulness of the way of life that he taught by first acting accordingly,” ll. 182–83), despises earthly fame, honours and profit (non laudes hominum et honores aut lucra rerum cupide quesiuit, sed honorem Dei et salutem animarum, “he did not greedily look for the praise of men nor honours nor material gain, but the honour of God and the salvation of souls,” ll. 14–16; nomen episcopus esset nomen operis et non honoris et quod non sonaret dominium sed officium atque seruicium (“the noun bishop was [according to him] the name of a work and not of an honorable position and that one should not talk about lordship but of duty and service”), ll. 35–36; indignum enim estimabat presencia et transeuncia accumulare, qui diuicias et delicias vite eterne accipere anhelaret, et ideo oblata ab hominibus distribuit, vt promissum patris celestis acciperet, “for he considered collecting present and transient things unworthy of a man who wanted to receive the riches and pleasures of eternal life, and consequently distributed whatever he got from men, in order to receive the promised good of the heavenly father,” ll. 239–42), officiates with great self-dedication (in officio altaris sic deuote se habebat, ac si presencialiter in carne cerneret geri dominicam passionem, “he officiated at the altar as devoutly as if he had physically been experiencing our Lord's passion in his flesh,” ll. 18–20; diuina uero sacramenta ita reuerendissime tractabat, vt intuencium fidem et mores ipsa contrectacio informaret, “he handled the holy sacraments to reverently that the very action formed the faith and the manners of those watching,” ll. 18–20) and is an inspiring preacher (sermo eius viuus et efficax erat, faciens mirabilia, “his speech was vivid and efficient and made miracles,” l. 194).

Medieval reception and transmission

The only known manuscript is Uppsala, University Library, C 292, parchment, 22 x 16,5 cm, two columns, 30 lines per page, structure: I+I–(8–1) II–XII–8 XIII–10(–1) XIV–14(–2). It consists of three parts:

(1) fol. 1–82b, [Lectiones de sanctis et de communi sanctorum] (MHUU 3:1, 308–10) written by a fourteenth-century littera textualis (MALINIEMI’s Hand A). On fol. 25v: De-sancto henrico episcopo et martyre. Require. circa finem libri. This hand extends to quire XI, fol. 3;

(2) fol. 82b–85a, Legenda de sancto Henrico episcopo Aboensi per quendam fratrem nouiter compilata, in a Gothic cursive according to MALINIEMI (1942) datable to the second half of the fifteenth century (MALINIEMI's Hand B), (see MHUU 3:1, 308–10: “bastarda 15. Jh.”). This hand filled fol. 4–6 of quire XI. There seem to be two other fifteen-century hands active in this part of the manuscript one that corrects the text, and one that is responsible for such additions as fol. 85a Satagundie (l. 276, MALINIEMI 1942), fol. 85va nouusis (l. 351) and anno domini Mcliiij.o xiiij kalendas iulij (l. 352; according to MALINIEMI (1942) the latter addition would be made by the text hand);

(3) fol. 85va–114v, [Lectiones de sanctis nonnullis], written by Michael Nicolai, a well-known Vadstena monk who wrote partly or entirely twenty-seven manuscripts now at the Uppsala University Library, see MHUU 7, 147–48. He completed the third part of the manuscript as follows: fol. 114v finitum est anno Domini Mcd.xcv die x milium militum per fratrem Michaelem Nicolai Orate pro eo dominum Iesum Christum. See also HEDLUND 1977, 53. Among these lectiones, there is the thirteenth-century legend of Saint Henry, fol. 94vb–96vb De sancto Henrico.


[see now HEIKKILÄ 2005 & 2009 for a full bibliography]

  • ANNERSTEDT, C. (ed.) 1871–1876: SRS III:2, Uppsala.
  • HAUSEN, R. 1910–1935: Finlands Medeltidsurkunder, vol. 1–8, Helsingfors.
  • HAUSEN, R. 1890: Registrum Ecclesiae Aboensis, eller, Åbo domkyrkans Svartbok, Helsingfors.
  • HEDLUND, M. 1977, Katalog der datierten Handschriften 1 (Bibliotheca Ekmaniana 67.1), Stockholm.
  • HEININEN, S. (ed.) 1988: Paulus Juusten, Catalogus (Suomen Kirkkohistoriallisen Seuran toimituksia 143), Helsinki.
  • HEIKKILÄ, T. 2005: Pyhän Henrikin Legenda (Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seuran Toimituksia 1039), Helsinki.
  • HEIKKILÄ, T. 2009: Sankt Henrikslegenden (Svenska litteratursällskapet i Finland), Helsingfors / Stockholm.
  • MALIN. A. 1925: Der Heiligenkalender Finnlands. Seine Zusammensetzung und Entwicklung, Helsingfors.
  • MALINIEMI, A. (ed.) 1942: De Sancto Henrico episcopo et martyre. Die mittelalterliche Literatur über den Apostel Finnlands 2. Legenda Nova. Sermones (Suomen Kirkkohistoriallisen Seuran toimituksia 45.2) Helsinki.

MALINIEMI, A. 1945: Suomen Kirkkohistorian Juhlajulkaisu 1945, Helsinki.

  • MHUU = Mittelalterliche Handschriften der Universitätsbibliothek Uppsala. Katalog über die C-Sammlung, vol 1–8 (Acta Bibliothecae R. Universitatis Upsaliensis 26:1–8), ed. M. Andersson-Schmitt, H. Hallberg & M. Hedlund, Uppsala 1988–1995.
  • NEOVIUS, A. (ed.) 1912: Akter och undersökningar rärande Finlands historia intill år 1401 (Historiallinen Arkisto 23.1.3), Helsingfors.
  • PIRINEN, K. 1956: Turun tuomiokapituli keskiajan lopulla (Suomen Kirkkohistoriallisen Seuran toimituksia 58), Helsinki.