Saint from one country becomes patron of another
Accompanying a papal representative north led to permanent residence
By Tony Staley
Henry of Uppsala
Who: Swedish bishop and patron saint of Finland
Where: Sweden and Finland
When: died about 1156
Feast: Jan. 19
While England has been traditionally Anglican for centuries -- rather than Roman Catholic -- that was not always the case. Indeed, several natives of Britain have gone on to become the patron saint of another country, including Patrick (Ireland), Boniface (Germany) and Willebrord (the Netherlands).
Such is the case with St. Henry of Uppsala, an Englishman living in Rome. In 1151, Card. Nicholas Breakspear (who was Pope Adrian IV from 1154-59), asked Henry to accompany him to Scandinavia. The cardinal was going as the official representative of Pope Eugene III (1145-53).
The next year, Card. Breakspear consecrated Henry as the Bishop of Uppsala, Sweden.
In the 1000s, shortly after the demise of the Swedish Vikings, the Swedes and Russians battled for control of Finland, which had been populated by nomadic Lapps until Finns moved in from the south, driving the Lapps north. The Finns lived mainly by fishing, hunting and farming and their three loosely organized tribes often fought.
That made the country attractive to both Swedes and Russians, who were eager to increase the size of their own countries. In the 1100 and 1200s, Sweden eventually conquered Finland and began converting the country to Catholicism.
St. Anskar, a Frankish monk, had brought Christianity to Sweden in 829, triggering a 200-year struggle with paganism. Sweden's first Christian was Olof Skotkonung, who ruled from the late 900s until the early 1000s.
Because Finnish forces were raiding Sweden, in 1154 King Eric of Sweden, accompanied by Henry, led his troops into Finland.
After the conquest, Eric returned to Sweden, but Henry remained, baptizing first the conquered forces and attempting to convert more people. He was axed to death at Nousis by Lalli, a convert, after Henry excommunicated him for murdering a Swedish soldier.
While Henry is considered to be the patron saint of Finland, there is no evidence that he was ever officially canonized.
While Catholicism once was the dominant religion in Finland, in 1540 the Swedish king made Lutheranism the state religion. Today 95% of Finns are Lutheran. Fewer than 1% of Finns are Catholic.
(Sources: Dictionary of Saints, Lives of the Saints, Patron Saints, and World Book Encyclopedia.)