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.

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