Jan 19, 2010

Summer Henry or Winter Henry?

Due to popular demand from my Finnish readers, today we are going to take a very quick look at St. Henrik, or St. Henry, Finland's apostle, who is one of the first people documented in Finnish history, and founder of the Church of Finland.

Henry may or may not have been an English missionary to Sweden in the mid 12th century, and may or may not have been ordained bishop in Uppsala. It seems that the official Catholic legend of St. Henry has been challenged by historians to the point of being termed pure imagination. But it's still an interesting story.

According to legend, Henry participated in the a crusade to Christianize the Finns, along with King Erik (later St. Erik) of Sweden.
Following their success, Erik returned to Sweden and Henry remained in Finland to preach and build churches.

If you look closely at the intricate work on St. Henry's sarcophagus, you will see St. Erik and St. Henry on the boat to Finland -- the precursor of today's Finland ferries, perhaps?

He didn't last long.

Here's the first version of what happened, based on the official vita of the saint:
Henry tried to give a canonical punishment to a murderer, who became enraged and killed the bishop.

The more popular version derives from the Finnish folk poem, "The Death-lay of Bishop Henry" (Piispa Henrikin surmavirsi) and goes like this: Henry was travelling alone in the middle of winter and visited Kerttu and woodsman Lalli's cottage. He supposedly left without repaying the couple for his meal, thus angering Lalli who chased the saint onto frozen
Lake Köyliönjärvi and killed him with an axe on 20 January 1156.

His body was taken to Nousianen (Nousis), not far from Turkku, where a spring is said to have sprung up where the oxen-drawn cart carrying his hearse stopped.

His relics (or at least most of them) were later translated to the Cathedral of Turkku on 18 June 1292 where they remain today, well, at least when they are not on loan to St. Henry's Cathedral in Helsinki.

You see, Henry's remains move around each year. And so does his feast day.

Today is what is known as Winter Henry, or talviheikki, in Finland, and I am sure a great reason to rejoice in their deep, dark winter forests. The Finns actually observe talviheikki on 20 January, the death of the saint, while in Sweden (and according to the Catholic church), St.Henry's Day, or Hindersmässan as it is known in Swedish, is celebrated on the 19th.

Summer Henry, or kesäheikki, falls on 18 June, at which time we shall take a closer look at this fascinating person.

Then you, like my Finnish friends, can decide for yourself which Henry you prefer -- Summer Henry or Winter Henry?

St. Henry in the modern coat of arms of Nousianen, Finland.

Note: Hindersmässan, or Saint Henry, is still celebrated in Örebro, Sweden, and is one of the city's oldest traditions. It was first celebrated in the 1300s as a market where iron from Bergslagen was sold.

Today the tradition lives on and a Hindersmässan market is held annually in Örebro, along with concerts, conferences and other events. It attracts about 80,000 people every year. I was also very surprised to find a website: www.hindersmassan.com that covers the event.

The name "hinders", by the way, comes from St. Henrik. The only translation I have found for the event is the Hinders Trade Fair.

Jan 18, 2010

"Had I been in his clothes , I would have stayed in them"

Sometimes cultural differences can be shocking. Like the time I was writing my final exam for my theology course on St. Bridget of Sweden, at the University of Lund, in 2003.

Imagine, if you will, a room full of Swedish theology students. Some 200 people or so, on an early snowy morning in Lund, Sweden.

Most of them are supplied with food and beverages -- Swedish exams are long enough to necessitate bringing provisions. People are arriving on a drop-in basis since there is usually a one-hour window during which you can show up. Yes, very strange from a North American perspective, but hey, this is Sweden.

About half-way through the exam, I heard someone say "I'm doing this to get your attention, and to protest that I am not allowed to write my exam."

Now, I am used to Canadian exam-room settings. Stress, sweat, starvation and strict rules on exam start times, bathroom use, etc. No one ever says anything out loud (except: Put down your pens and stop writing now). Ever.

I looked up and saw a red-haired guy standing at the front of the room. My first reaction was, is this guy trying to advertise the Engineering play? Was this just another cultural difference?

There was, however, one problem.

The guy was completely naked.

Well, except for his shoes.

After getting over the initial shock, I remembered that Sweden is liberal in attitudes towards nudity. But during a theology exam? Was this normal behaviour for students possibly preparing for careers in the church?

Had this happened in Canada, probably everyone would have been allowed to leave with an A+ since they would have been considered victims of sexual assault of some kind.

What happened in Lund that morning was this: the proctors managed to convince the guy to leave (still naked) without writing the exam. I continued writing my exam (and got top marks) and the world kept turning.

But the story, I think, is one of the best I have from my academic career.

Here's the comment that was published in Sydsvenskan, followed by my translation:

"Had been in his clothes, I probably would have stayed in them."
Fredrik Lindström, Prefect at the Faculty of Theology, regarding the student who stripped to protest that he was not allowed to write his exam when he arrived late.
Source: Sydsvenskan
(29 January 2004)

Note: In Swedish, the expression "to be in someone else's shoes" is "to be in someone's clothes"

Jan 15, 2010

On lost things and hopeless situations

A friend of mine recently published an urgent plea on Facebook asking people to pray to Saints Anthony and Jude to help find her mother's wedding ring, which she lost on the way into surgery last week.

It's been a while since I've heard anyone invoke these saints -- the patrons of lost items and hopeless situations -- so I decided it's high time to take a look at them.

Saint Anthony of Padua (c. 1195 - 13 June 1291) is your man if you have lost something (or find yourself shipwrecked). He was a Franciscan monk of Portuguese origin and a great orator who lived at times as a hermit in a walnut tree and is reported to have preached to fish. His tongue is preserved in a reliquary at the Basilica of St. Anthony in Padua, where he is buried.

There is a jingle-like prayer to St. Anthony that goes "Tony, Tony, look around; something is lost and must be found."

The background to this invocation comes from an incident where a novice carried off St. Anthony's psalter. The saint prayed for its recovery (and may also have appeared to the novice in a frightening manner) and the psalter was returned.

Now on to St. Jude, the patron of lost causes and cases despaired of, especially in grave health matters and life and death situations.
The usual prayer to St. Jude is: “Saint Jude, hope of the hopeless, pray for me.”

St. Jude, also known as Judas Thaddeus, was one of the 12 disciples of Jesus who also wrote an epistle and preached in Syria, Mesopotamia and Persia with Saint Simon.

St. Jude is easily recognizable: almost all images depict him carrying an image of Jesus and usually with a small flame above his head, representing his baptism by fire.

There are several reasons suggested for his patronage of lost or impossible causes. First, there is the traditional belief that it derives from confusion among many early Christians between St. Jude and Judas Iscariot (who handed Jesus over the Romans). For this reason, few people ever prayed to St. Jude, and devotion to him became something of a lost cause in itself.

More convincing are his words from the Epistle of Jude (the short, penultimate book of the New Testament) on the perseverance of faith in harsh and difficult circumstances.

When asking St. Jude for help, it is customary to make a vow to publish a notice of thanks once the favour is granted, which is why there are newspaper classified ad ex-votos such as "Thank you St. Jude for favours granted" or a more terse "Thank you, St. Jude."

St. Anthony of Padua, by Antonio de Pereda

Jan 13, 2010

St. Hilary of Poitiers

St. Hilary of Poitiers (c. 300 – c. 368) was Bishop of Poitiers and is a Doctor of the Church.

A pagan convert, he is perhaps best known for his stance against arianism (the doctrine that Jesus Christ is not divine but separate from God) for which he spent four years in exile. Because of his stance against arianism, he is sometimes referred to as the "Hammer of the Arians” and the “Athansius of the West.”

Upon his return, he continued to try to purge the West of arianism and wrote several renowned theological works, including De synodis and De trinitate, as well as hymns.

St. Hilary is the patron saint against snakes and snake bites, and of backward children. His attribute is a snake.

His feast day, which is also known as Hilarymas, is 13 January according to the General Roman Calendar (which includes the Roman Catholic calendar of saints). Earlier, this date was occupied by the Octave Day of the Epiphany, and his feast day was celebrated on 14 January instead. Octave Day, by the way, is the eighth day after a feast.

In England, “Hilary term” starts after Hilarymas in English courts and schools. The designation originated in the legal system, which divides the legal year into four terms: Hilary, Easter, Trinity and Michaelmas.

Who said saints aren’t still relevant today?

Note: St. Athanasius of Alexandria (c. 293 – 373) was also an opponent of arianism and argued against Arius at the First Council of Nicea (in present-day Turkey) in 325. The Council was convened by Roman Emperor Constantine I and aimed to reach consensus on Christian doctrine. The result of the council was the Nicene Creed.

Athanasius is a Doctor of the Church (Roman Catholic) as well as one of the four Great Doctors in the Eastern Orthodox Church. His feast days are 2 May (Roman Catholic) and 19 January (Orthodox).

Tjugondag Knut

Tjugondag Knut, dansas julen ut!
(On the 20th of Canute, Christmas gets the boot!)

Yuletide in Sweden is gruelingly long – 20 days, in fact – and the last day of Christmas falls on the Feast of St. Canute, or Tjugondag Knut
in Swedish.

St. Canute’s Day is celebrated in the Nordic countries on 13 January (the Swedish name day for Knut), although the Catholic Church observes it on 19 January.

Canute (c. 1043 –1086) was King of Denmark from 1080 until 1086. He was an ambitious king who attempted to conquer England and take the English throne from William of Normandy (his claim was via his great-uncle, Canute the Great, King of England, Denmark, Norway and parts of Sweden at various times between 1016 and 1035). He also worked to strengthen the Danish monarchy and supported the Catholic Church by building churches and encouraging missionaries.

On 10 July 1086, during an insurrection in Odense, Denmark, Canute and his brother Benedict were murdered by rebels while kneeling at in the altar of St. Alban’s Church where they had taken refuge. Oddly enough, it has been suggested that Canute had earlier stolen relics of Saint Alban from Ely in England and deposited them at St. Alban's Priory, which he founded in Odense. Perhaps being murdered there was his just reward.

Because of his supposed martyrdom and his advocacy of the Catholic Church, he was quickly regarded as a saint. A Canute cult developed, and miracles were reported at his grave.

St. Canute was canonized in 1101 and is the patron saint of Denmark. He is also known as Canute IV, Canutus, Cnut, Knud IV and Knute.

St. Canute is normally represented as a Nordic king with a lance, dagger or arrow. He is often depicted barefoot with his hair in a fillet (a round band worn around the head and over the hair), or being murdered at an altar.

St. Canute’s Day marks the end of Christmas in Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland. On this day in Sweden, people dance around their Christmas trees and candy is hidden among the branches for children to find in a tradition known as “Christmas tree plundering” before the tree is finally tossed.

Additionally, in some parts of the country, masked and costumed children beg for candy, and in Gimo (outside of Uppsala), there is a festive “knutmasso”, or St. Canute carnival, with elaborate paper mâché masks, every year.

St. Canute festivities are not confined to the Nordic countries: in Spain, St. Canute’s Day, or San Canuto, is celebrated on 19 January. The feast is characterized by the imbibing of alcohol and smoking of marijuana, as St. Canute has evolved into the Spanish patron saint of cannabis.

Below is the aftermath of Tjugondag Knut from our place (we celebrated on Epiphany Day instead).