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St. Henry of Uppsala

by Lani K. Thompson

Henry, or Heikki, is the patron saint of Finland. He was an Englishman who lived during the 12th century and is said to have accompanied Cardinal Nicholas Breakspear, who later became Pope Adrian IV, to Scandinavia some time between 1148 and 1151.

In 1152 he became the bishop of Uppsala, Sweden after being consecrated by Cardinal Breakspear, and a few years later he accompanied King Eric of Sweden into battle against Finnish pirates. When King Eric returned to Sweden, Heikki remained behind, in the area of present day Turku, where he worked as a missionary.

There are two commonly told stories about his death. One story says a Finnish soldier named Lalli struck him with an axe at the bishop's church in Nousis, after he excommunicated him for murdering a Swedish solider.

Another story describes how Bishop Henry stopped at Lalli's house while he was away from home. In this story, Lalli is a well-to-do farmer. When Lalli's wife refused to give the bishop anything to eat, the bishop took what he needed and paid the wife. However, when Lalli returned home, his wife only told him that the bishop had taken their food and didn't say anything about being paid. Lalli pursued the bishop and killed him when he caught up with him.

In the first story, Lalli went on to live a long life; the other says he died within a year. Both stories agree that for the rest of his life, he was tormented by mice who constantly attacked him as punishment for what he'd done. In the end, he tried to escape up a tree, but the mice gnawed it down, sending Lalli into the lake where he drowned. Today the lake is still known as Hiirijärvi, or Mouse Lake.

Bishop Henry was buried at the church he built at Nousis, and his death day - January 19th - is celebrated as the name day for Heikki.

For another interpretation of this story, which claims Henry came to Finland to organize ecclesiastical affairs - not to convert Finns - visit the University of Tampere's website.


St. Henry of Uppsala

Saint Henrik, Bishop and Martyr