Saint Sigfrid of Sweden
Also known as
Apostle of Sweden
Sigfrid of Vaexjoe
Sigfrid of Wexlow
Also known as Sigfrid Växjö
Born in Glastonbury, England.
Died at Växjö, Sweden 1045;
canonized by Pope Adrian IV
Feast day: February 15
Priest at York and/or Glastonbury in England. Monk. Evangelized in Norway, Sweden, Denmark. Brought King Olaf of Sweden to the faith. While Sigfrid was away on a mission, his three nephews (Saint Winaman, Saint Unaman, and Saint Sunaman), who had come to help with the work in Sweden, were beheaded by pagan raiders. Sigfrid returned, recovered their heads, and claimed they could talk, a claim that terrorized the pagans. King Olaf decided to execute the murderers, but Sigfrid spoke against capital punishment and the killers were spared. Olaf then ordered them to pay a large fine, but Sigfrid refused the blood money, and thus achieved such a moral high ground that his mission work became even more successful.
Untrustworthy accounts say that the patron saint of Sweden is an Englishman, Sigfrid, who reached Sweden as a result of a call from King Olaf Tryggvason of Norway, who had been converted himself by another Englishman, Saint Alphege. Sigfrid is said to have been born in Northumberland, become a priest at York or Glastonbury, and was sent by King Ethelred as a missionary to Norway with two other bishops, Grimkel and John.
They labored under the protection of the archbishop of Bremen (Germany). After converting many pagans, Sigfrid continued on to Sweden in 1008. Saint Ansgar had planted the seeds of faith in Sweden in 830; but the country had relapsed into paganism soon after his time. A second wave of missionary saints, including Sigfrid, followed about two centuries later.
There he built himself a wooden church at Växjö in southern Sweden, and labored with success in the Smaeland and Västergötland districts. He converted twelve of the principal men of the province, then many others followed their example. The fountain near the mountain of Ostrabo, since called Wexlow) in which Sigfrid baptized the catechumens, long retained the names of the first 12 converts, engraved on a monument.
Others, including the King Saint Olaf Skotkonung of Sweden, were attracted out of curiosity to see the rich fabrics and beautiful vessels used during the celebration of the Mass, to hear his preaching, and to observe the dignity and majesty of the Christian worship. That attracted them first. But it was the example of the lives of Sigfrid and his companion missionaries that open their eyes of faith and led to the baptism of so many others including the king, who was baptized at Husaby (one of the sites in Sigrid Undset's Kristin Lavransdatter) in a spring that later bore Sigfrid's name and was the channel of many miracles.
Sigfrid ordained and consecrated two native bishops to govern neighboring territories, but he retained the episcopacy of Växjö while he lived. His three nephews--Unaman, a priest; Sunaman, a deacon; and Winaman, a subdeacon--were his chief assistants in his apostolic efforts.
Sigfrid also labored in Denmark. During one of Sigfrid's absences from Sweden, he instructed his three nephews to carry on the missionary work. A troop of idolatrous rebels--perhaps out of hatred for Christianity, perhaps in search of booty--plundered the church of Växjö and barbarously murdered Sigfrid's nephews by cutting off their heads, putting them in a box, and flinging them into a lake. The bodies they buried in the midst of the forest where they were never found.
Sigfrid returned, recovered the three heads and claimed that they could still talk. He asked whether the crime would be avenged. "Yes," replied the first head. "When?" asked the second. "In the third generation," answered the third. And so it was. The saint had brilliantly used the dead heads to terrorize his living enemies. Their heads were placed in a shrine. The king was angered by their deaths and resolved to execute the murderers, but at Sigfrid's earnest entreaties Olaf spared their lives--an early testimony against capital punishment. Olaf compelled the guilty to pay a heavy fine to Sigfrid, but the saint refused to accept it even though he was living in extreme poverty and had to contend with rebuilding his church. Thenceforth, he was invincible.
The saint became so renowned that the Germans claimed him as their own, insisting that he had been born either in Bremen or Hamburg. He died in old age, and his bones rest beneath the high altar of the cathedral of Växjö, and were famous for miracles. Sigfrid was so successful that he is called the Apostle of Sweden, where he is still venerated. A metrical office for his feast survives in both Sweden and Denmark.
He is reported to have been canonized by Pope Adrian IV, but there is no proof it.
one of three bishops on a ship
baptizing King Olaf of Sweden
bishop menaced by devils
bishop carrying three severed heads
bishop carrying three loaves of bread (misrepresentation of the heads) .