St. Eric, the 12th-century king of Sweden, serves as a model because of his devotion to contemplation and prayer, visiting the sick, and redressing injustices.
Eric IX, was the son of Jedvard of Vastergotland. He became king in 1150 with his marriage to Princess Christine.
During his 10-year reign, he consolidated Christianity in his realm and worked to convert the neighboring Finns, defeating them in battle and then weeping when he saw all the bodies on the battlefield. Next he convinced St. Henry, an Englishman who only a few years earlier had become bishop of Uppsala, to serve as a missionary in Finland.
As king, Eric codified laws according to Gospel principles, which were known as King Eric’s Law or the Code of Uppland. He also founded a monastic chapter from the Danish abbey of Odense.
Although Eric used his own wealth to meet government expenses and to build churches, he angered some nobles when he insisted that Swedes adopt the European custom of paying tithes for church support.
While attending Mass at Trinity Church at Mons Domini on the feast of the Ascension in 1160, he received word that rebellious nobles were on their way. He replied: “Let us at least finish the sacrifice; the remainder of the festival I shall keep elsewhere.”
After Mass, he charged out ahead of his troops into the midst of his enemy, who knocked him from his horse, tortured, ridiculed and then beheaded him. Legend says a fountain sprang up where his head landed.
Eric was buried in the Old Uppsala church he had rebuilt around pagan burial mounds. His body was enshrined in 1167 and, in 1273, his relics were transferred to Uppsala cathedral, built on the site of his martyrdom.
A casket containing his relics was destroyed early in the Reformation. Later in the 16th century, Catherine Jagiellon, the Polish Catholic wife of King John III, commissioned a Renaissance-style casket for Eric’s relics in the Uppsala cathedral. In April 2014, Swedish researchers opened the 850-year-old reliquary and found the bones of a male with injuries to the collarbone caused by a sword. It also contained Eric’s gilded copper crown, decorated with semi-precious stones, which will be on display this summer.
Sources: “Butler’s Lives of the Saints”; catholic.org; justus.anglican.org; saintpatrickdc.org; saints.sqpn.com; and wikipedia.org.
Staley is a retired editor of The Compass.