Sanctus Ericus rex Suecus

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by Haki Antonsson

Sanctus Ericus rex Suecus St. Erik Jedvardsson (d. 1160), patron saint of Sweden, was king of Sweden in the 1150s, and worked according to his legend assiduously to promote Christianity. He won his martyrdom falling in a battle with Dane fighting him for the Swedish throne. The day of his death, 18 May, was held in high veneration. A twelfth-century Vita S. Erici is transmitted, along with a miracle-collection from the fourteenth century, Miracula S. Erici (See (1) Legenda). An office was written during the thirteenth century (see (2) Officium), and several sequences (see (3) Missa).


Vita et Miracula Sancti Erici (The Life and Miracle of St Eric).

Vita S. Erici

This short text (ca. 1200 words), the Life of St. Erik Jedvardsson, is one of the most hotly debated texts from medieval Sweden. This is, of course, not surprising in light of the scarcity of written sources from twelfth-century Sweden. For example, the Vita tells that King Erik along with Bishop Henry of Uppsala undertook a crusade against the Finns. This is the sole reference to such an undertaking and, as such, it has been of great interest in the context of medieval Swedish expansion in Finland and the Baltic. The dating of Vita Erici is another issue that has attracted considerable scholarly scrutiny.

Little is known for certain about the earliest stage in the development of the cult of St. Erik. His sanctity is noted in the so-called Vallentuna Calendar from 1198 and Sverrir saga from around the same time mentions that his relics are kept in (old) Uppsala Cathedral. It was first with the translation of the see from (old) Uppsala to Östra Aros in the 1270s that the cult of St. Erik came into prominence.


  • SCHEFERRUS 1675: De Vita et Miraculis Sancti Erici Sueciae Regis. Primus edidit, notisque illustravit Joannes Schefferus Argentoratensis, Stockholm.
  • ASS (1680), Maii, vol. 3, [reprinted 1969].
  • GEIJER, E.G. & SCHRÖDER, J.H. 1828: SRS II, Uppsala.
  • JØRGENSEN, E. 1933: “Bidrag til ældre nordiske kirke- og litteraturshistorie,” Nordisk tidsskrift för bok och biblioteksväsen 20 (1933), 186-98 (at 191).
  • NELSON, A. 1944, Vita et Miracula Sancti Erici Regis Sueciae. Latine et Suecice. Codex Vat. Reg. Lat 525. Suecice et Britannice Praefatus (CCS 3), Copenhagen.


  • (English) CROSS, J.E. : “St Eric of Sweden,” Saga-Book of the Viking Society 15, 323-26 [contains both “Standard” and “Shorter legend”].
  • (Swedish) SCHMID, T. 1954: “Erik den heliges legend på latin, fornsvenska och modern svenska,” in Erik den Helige. Historia–Kult-Reliker, ed. B. Thordeman, Stockholm, XI-XX

Date and place

The identity of the author of Vita S Erici is unknown although the fact that it, or at least the “Standard legend”, appears in the earliest manuscript along with Prior Israel Erlandsson’s Miracula S. Erici (see below) has led some scholars to attribute the Legend to him as well.

The “Standard legend” is preserved in a manuscript that dates to 1344 and it refers to Uppsala Cathedral at Östra Aros. The construction only began around 1287; the archiepiscopal see had indeed only been translated from (Old) Uppsala to its new location in or around 1273. In the decades following the translation the archbishop and his cathedral chapter were keen to promote the cult of St. Erik. The composition of a Life of St. Erik fits well within this context. A late thirteenth-century date for the writing of Vita S Erici squares well with the compiling of a Miracula S Erici around the same period. That Erik suffered his martyrdom at Östra Aros, at least according to the “Standard legend” would certainly have enhanced prestige of the archbishopric’s new location. The cult of St. Erik, however, is attested as early as 1198 (in the aforementioned Vallentuna Calendar) and this, among other things, has led some scholars to argue that a version of the Vita existed at a much earlier date, perhaps even in the second half of the twelfth century (CARLSSON 1944). The finding of a coin issued in the reign of Erik’s son, Knud (1167-1195/96), has also been used to support an early dating of a Legend of St. Erik. The coin appears to include pictorial references to three fundamental features of the “Standard legend”: the saint’s patronage of the Church, his just rule and crusade to Finland (SJØBERG 1983).

Summary of Contents

The Vita tells that Erik, who is of royal lineage, is chosen to kingship by the nobles and the general populace. Like the kings of the Old Testament he builds churches, proclaims laws, upholds justice and expels enemies of the faith. Erik also lives an ascetic life-style: he garbs a hairshirt and frequently abstains from intercourse with his queen by bathing in cold water. Erik, along with Bishop Henrik of Uppsala, embarks on a crusade against the Finns during which many are baptized and churches are built. In the tenth year of Erik’s reign a certain Magnus, son of the king of Denmark, claims his right to the Swedish throne. Magnus joins forces with a certain prince of the realm and other wicked accomplices. They attack Erik at Östra Aros (Uppsala) on Ascension Day. Erik fights bravely with his men but to no avail and he is killed and his head severed from his body. The Vita closes by telling that Erik died on 18 May 1160.

Composition and style

Vita Erici shares some common characteristics with Legends of royal or princely martyrs such as St. Knud of Odense, St. Knud Lavard, St. Olaf of Norway and St. Edmund of East Anglia (HOFFMANN). Most notably, St. Erik is portrayed as a just ruler who supports both Church and Christianity while ending his life in a violent manner. A feature that sets the Vita Erici somewhat apart from Legends of other royal saints is that St. Erik dies while fighting bravely along his men rather than in a resigned, martyr-like, fashion.

Medieval reception and transmission

The oldest witness to the Latin Vita S. Erici is found in Registrum Ecclesie Upsalensis, fol. 15 IV-fol. 16 IV, the letter-book and register of Uppsala Cathedral, which dates to 1344. In this manuscript the Vita is combined with Miracula S Erici. The main edition of the Legend (GEIJER 1828) is based on this manuscript (although printed in a slightly different order). The other main witness to the Vita S Erici is the Codex Vaticanus, Reg. Lat. 525, that, judging from the handwriting and the style of the illustrations, dates to the beginning of the fifteenth century. This manuscript, which once adorned the library of Queen Christiana of Sweden (1626-1689) in her Roman exile, was used by the Bollandists in their earliest edition of Vita S Erici published in 1685 (AS, see Editions).

A version of Vita S. Erici is preserved in a Swedish Breviary dating from the second half of the thirteenth century, London, British Library, Add. 40146. This text has sometimes been referred to as the “Shortened legend” to distinguish it from the “Standard legend” found in the Registrum Ecclesie Upsalensis and Codex Vaticanus. The “Shortened legend” consists of three lectiones, which run to some 123 words. It tells of Erik being chosen to kingship by the Swedish people, his just rule, about the arrival of the Danish Magnus on the scene and the subsequent beheading of St. Erik. The question whether the “Shortened legend” represents an earlier version of the “Standard legend” or whether both descend from now-lost prototype is still debated. The Life was soon translated into Old Swedish and there is a German translation of it which was printed in Lübeck in 1507 (GEIJER & SCHRÖDER 1828, 319-21). Vita Erici was extensively used in the saint’s liturgy (SCHMID 1954).

Miracula S. Erici

Miracula S. Erici is the oldest preserved collection of miracles from medieval Sweden. It was compiled by Israel Erlandsson (d. 1328), the prior of the Dominican house at Sigtuna and who later became bishop of Västerås. From Israel’s epilogue we know that it was composed at the request of the canons of Uppsala Cathedral. It has been argued that the Miracula consists of two redactions, the first one begun in 1277 and completed in the 1280s and the latter begun in 1292 and completed in 1311. However that may be, it is clear that the composition of the Miracula should be seen within the context of the translation of St. Erik’s relics in or around 1273 from Old Uppsala to Östra Åros (Uppsala) and the subsequent effort to enhance the profile of his cult.


  • GEIJER, E.G. & SCHRÖDER, J.H. 1828: SRS II, Uppsala, 270-316.
  • NELSON, A. 1944, Vita et Miracula Sancti Erici Regis Sueciae. Latine et Suecice. Codex Vat. Reg. Lat 525. Suecice et Britannice Praefatus (CCS 3), Copenhagen.

Summary of Contents

The Miracula consists of fifty-two miracles along with a post-script or epilogue in which Israel Erlendsson states his reason for the composition. The miracles in the collection differ widely in both length and in the detail in which they are told. The bulk of the miracles occur in the Uppland region and many tell about people who were healed in the localities through St. Erik and then travelled to his shrine at Uppsala to give their thanks. A noteworthy aspect of the Miracula is the wide spectrum of society represented. People who are healed or otherwise aided by St. Erik range from the king of Sweden (Birgir Magnusson, d. 1321) and the archbishop of Uppsala to regular farmers and children of common people. Statistical analysis has revealed that 71% deal with males while 29% concern women and children or adolescents (KRÖTZL 1994, 78). In number of cases Israel Erlendsson mentions that miracles were publicly acclaimed and/or that witnesses were produced to authenticate them. In this respect Miracula S. Erici reflects the standard of proof that had become expected of such collections by the turn of the thirteenth century.

Medieval reception and transmission

The oldest witness to the Latin Miracula S Erici is Registrum Ecclesie Upsalensis, fol. 15 IV–fol. 16I V that dates from 1344. There is no reason to doubt that this version accurately reflects Israel Erlandsson’s original compilation. The other main witness to the Miracula is Codex Vaticanus, Reg. Lat. 525 (see above) which, however, leaves out three miracles and Israel’s epilogue. This manuscript also includes the earliest translation known of the Miracula into Old Swedish.


The office for St. Erik goes under the title Assunt Erici regis solemnia, and is believed to have been composed ca. 1280, and partly in the fourteenth century. Both MOBERG and HAAPANEN have pointed out Domincian influence in the office.


NILSSON, A.-M. 2000: St. Eriks hystoria. The historia of St. Erik, king and martyr, and patron saint of Sweden. (Antiphons also edited in Musica Antiqua 11, 1997.)


Musica Sveciae MSCD 103: S:t Eriks hystoria (CD)

Medieval reception and transmission.

The office for St. Erik exists both in codices and among the fragment material in the National Archives in Stockholm.


Summary of contents

Introitus Gaudeamus omnes in Domino. V. Domine in virtute [Ps. 20]. Oratio collecta? Ep. Justus si morte [Sap. 4,7-11, 13-15]. Gr. Domine prevenisti. Alleluia. Rex pie martir. Seq. Gratulemur dulci prosa vel communis Mundi etate. Ev. Si quis vult post me venire [Matth. 16, 24-28]. Offert. Posuisti domine. Secr.? Com. Magna est gloria. Postcom.? (The Nidaros celebration according to GJERLØW 1968, 343 n.)

Composition and style

Few elements are proper to St. Erik in the mass: The Alleluia-verse Rex pie martir, and the sequence Gratulemur dulci prosa.

Literary models

Several elements in St. Erik’s mass correspond with the mass for St. Olaf, among them the introitus Gaudeamus (an adaptable antiphon used for St. Mary, St. Olaf and other saints with only the name exchanged), the offertory Posuisti domine and the communio Magna est gloria. Posuisti domine super caput eius coronam de lapide pretioso (thou settest a crown of pure gold on his head, Ps. 20, 4) must have been considered suitable for a martyr king. Sequence: Gratulemur dulci prosa (AH 42, no. 215).

Medieval reception and transmission

The mass for St. Erik spread to other parts of Scandinavia, and was entered in the margin in one of the codices containing the ordinal of Nidaros (GJERLØW 1968, 78, 343 n.).


  • CARLSSON, E. 1944: Translacio archiepiscoporum. Erikslegendens historicitet i belysning av ärkebiskopssätes förflyttning från Upsala til Östra Aros, Uppsala Universitets Årsskrift 1944: 2, Uppsala.
  • CROSS, J.E. 1952: “The Authorship of ‘Vitae S. Erici’,” Vetenskaps-Societeten i Lund Årsbok, 23-40.
  • JAAKKOLA, J. 1922: Pyhän Eerikin pyhimystraditionin, kultin ja legendan synty, (Historiallisia Tutkimuksia 4), Helsinki (with a twenty page synopsis in German).
  • KRÖTZL, C. 1994: Pilger, Mirakel und Alltag. Formen des Verhaltens im skandinavischen Mittelalter (12.-15. Jahrhundert) (Societas Historica Finlandiae, Studia Historica 46), Helsinki, 75-79.
  • LINDKVIST 1953-1954: “Eriksmiraklerna,” Svenska landsmål och svensk folkeliv 76-77, 113-58
  • LÖNNROTH, E. 1959: “Kring Erikslegenden,” Septentrionalia et Orientalia, studia Berhardo Karlgren dedicata, Stockholm, 270-81.
  • MILVEDEN, I. 1969: “Rimofficium,” in KLNM, Stockholm.
  • MOBERG, C.-A. 1947: Die liturgische Hymnen in Schweden. Beitr. zur Liturgie- und Musikgeschichte des Mittelalters und der Reformationszeit, Copenhagen.
  • NILSSON, A.-M. 2000: S:t Eriks hystoria – The historia of St. Erik, king and martyr, and patron saint of Sweden, Stockholm.
  • NILSSON, A.-M. 2005: “Saints’ offices in the fragments,” in Medieval Book Fragments in Sweden (Kungl. Vitterhets historie och antikvitets akademien, Konferenser 58), ed. J. Brunius, Stockholm, 184-209
  • SCHMID, T. 1954: “Erik den helige i liturgien,” in Erik den Helige. Historia–Kult-Reliker, ed. B. Thordeman, Stockholm, 155-71.
  • SJÖBERG, R. 1983: “Via regia incedens. Ett bidrag till frågan om Erikslegendens ålder,” Fornvånnen 78, 252-60.
  • WESTMAN, K.B.1915: Den svenska kyrkans utveckling. Från Bernhards tidearv till Innocentius III:s, Stockholm, 81-88.
  • WESTMAN, K.B. 1954: “Erik den helige och hans tid,” in Erik den Helige. Historia–Kult-Reliker, ed. B. Thordeman, Stockholm, 1-108.