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This grisly scene took place on the icy surface of Lake Köyliön in 1157. Dr Sutherland explains:
Bishop Henry was an Englishman and probably of Norman descent. On a winter’s day in 1157, when his horse-drawn sledge was crossing the ice of Lake Köyliön in south-western Finland, he was slain with an axe. The killer was Lalli, a yeoman on whom the bishop had imposed ecclesiastical penance for the sin of murder. Lalli lived in the parish of Köyliön, fifty miles north of Turku, and at his house the bishop stopped to obtain food for himself, his driver, and horse on one of his journeys. Lalli was not at home, but his wife refused to give them anything. Whereupon the bishop commandeered bread, beer and hay, for which he made payment, and resumed his journey. Soon afterwards Lalli returned and learnt from his wife that food and hay had been commandeered. The woman, whose housekeeping accounts might not have borne inspection, said nothing about the money she had received.
Lalli set off on his skis with an axe and overtook the bishop on Lake Köyliön. Seeing him coming, the bishop left the sledge so that the driver might escape, and told the latter to return with a sledge drawn by oxen. On this sledge he was to place the bishop’s body, and allow the oxen to go where they would until overcome by exhaustion. Where they stopped a church was to be built. Lalli slew his victim on the frozen lake. Thereafter the driver returned, and the oxen wandered thirty-five miles south to Nousis, where a church was built for the sarcophagus of the bishop. Lalli went home wearing the bishop’s red skull cap, and to explain the blood on his axe he told his wife that he had killed a bear. When she commented on his red cap he took it off and also his scalp, which had adhered to the cap. Such are the outlines of a legend, confirmed to some extent by modern historical and archaeological research.
At the Swedish Synod of Linkoping in 1152 Henry was consecrated as Bishop of Upsala by the Papal Legate, Cardinal Nicholas Breakspear, who was also an Englishman. In 1154 Breakspear became Pope Adrian IV; and Bishop Henry sailed with King Erik IX of Sweden (later St. Erik of Sweden) on the Crusade to Finland. The Finns were offered peace and the Christian faith. Both were refused. Thereafter the Finns were defeated in battle and the vanquished were baptised by Bishop Henry, the place of battle and baptism, according to tradition, being the Spring of Kuppis, near Turku on the extreme south-western coast of Finland.
King Erik returned to Sweden, and the bishop remained in Finland, where he was murdered three years later. There is a widespread pious belief that the dead bishop was canonised by his friend Adrian IV in 1158, but this statement so far as it can be traced was first made in 1623. There is no documentary evidence that St. Henry was ever formally canonised, but in 1250 his name appears among the Saints in the Acta Sanctorum of Rome, the day of his Feast being 19th January. In Finland the earliest reference to St. Henry’s day is in 1256.
According to tradition the actual place where St. Henry was slain was a small island on Lake Köyliön, known as Köyliönsaari (Church Island), and of this Professor Borenius writes: “That there is something special about this island is undoubtedly indicated by the fact that although it is less than 30 yards long and about 20 yards wide, a stone edifice did stand on it in days gone by. That building is nowadays regarded as a memorial chapel to St. Henry, erected in the fourteenth century at a time when there is evidence that much was being done to add lustre to the name of St. Henry.”
The oxen, according to tradition, stopped at Nousis, where a church was built. Historically Nousis was the first bishopric in Finland, and there a few years ago archaeologists found not only the remains of an old wooden church, but also a sarcophagus lid of twelfth-century design. This may or may not have been part of St. Henry’s coffin, but we do know that on the 8th of June 1300 (also commemorated in the Roman Calendar) the relics of St. Henry, borne in a silver reliquary, were translated from Nousis to the cathedral at Turku (Abo in Swedish), where the Episcopal See had by then been established. There the relics remained in their silver reliquary, and, when the latter was stolen, in an iron box—until the Russians in the invasion of 1714-21 carried them away to an unknown destination. Those were the seven years of “Great Wrath,” when thousands of Finns died under torture or were taken as slaves to Russia.
At the present time, twice every year—on 19th January and 18th June—St. Henry is remembered on the altars of Rome all over the world, when these words are spoken in Latin— “Born in Britain. Abounding in the Grace of God by heavenly providence he became a bishop of great renown in Upsala. At last, fighting strenuously for right and justice in Finland, he died a fearless Champion of Christ.”
The present church at Nousis was built during the first half of the fourteenth century, and in 1370 a cenotaph in black schist was erected in honour of the Saint. “It was this cenotaph,” writes Professor Borenius, “which, in the next century, was encased in engraved brass plaques, the donor being one of the most notable figures in the history of Finland in the Middle Ages, Bishop Magnus II Tawast, who occupied the See of Abo between 1412 and 1450—a widely travelled, splendour-loving Prince of the Church, scion of one of the great noble families of mediaeval Finland, and curiously enough, if a recent genealogical theory is accurate, himself a descendant of St. Henry’s murderer, Lalli.”
There was a replica of the cenotaph and the brass plaques in Helsinki (these can be seen online at http://museot.finna.fi/ — type “Henrikin+sarkofagi” into the search bar, or use the link here).
Sutherland described the the last four of which:
…depict miracles attributed to the invocation of St. Henry. The sorrowing parents of a dead child invoke the prayers of the Saint, who then appears against a background of stars and the child comes to life. The next brass shows the ice floes on Lake Köyliön in spring. A fisherman and his wife are out in a rowing boat, and on an ice floe they see a bird pecking at an object which proves to be a severed finger wearing St. Henry’s ring. To accentuate the loneliness of the lake a lion is seen crouching on the bank, although even in Pliocene times there were no lions in Finland. Be it noted that the armorial device of the cathedral chapter at Turku is now and always has been a severed finger wearing a ring.
Another miracle is when two seal hunters on the Baltic are overtaken by a storm. Their boat is sinking by the stern, and the mast has been smashed by a flying devil. They invoke St. Henry who appears. The storm abates, the boat is righted, and even the mast is as good a new. The last brass shows two monks at supper. One is drinking from the only goblet on the table, is scornful, and jeers at St. Henry. In the night he is taken ill, goes to his friend’s cell, and implores his aid. His friend advises him to involve St. Henry, and points to the cornice of the cell where the Saint appears with his hands raised in benediction.
From Lapland Journey (1938) by Halliday Sutherland.