Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

When St. Ansgar, the Apostle of the North, went to Sweden in 829 the Swedes were still heathen and the country contained many sacrificial groves and temples for the worship of idols. One of the most celebrated of the latter was the temple at Upsala in what is now called Old Upsala, the centre of idolatrous worship not only for Sweden but for all Scandinavia. Even after Christianity had spread through Sweden, heathen sacrifices were still maintained at Upsala. The "Bishops' Chronicle", written by Adam of Bremen in the years 1072-76, says, "The Swedes have a well-known heathen temple called Upsala", and adds, "Every ninth year, moreover, a great feast is celebrated at Upsala, which is observed in common by all the provinces of Sweden. None is permitted to avoid participation in the feast. . . . More horrible than any punishment is that even those who have become Christians must purchase exemption from participation in the feast. . . . The sacrifices are made thus: Nine heads are offered for every living creature of the male sex. By the blood of these the gods are appeased. The bodies are hung up in a grove not far from the temple. Dogs and horses may be seen hanging close by human beings ; a Christian told me he had seen seventy-two bodies hanging together."

An episcopal see was established at Old Upsala. One of the bishops was St. Henry, who took part in the Crusade to Finland led by St. Eric and suffered martyrdom there in 1157. The bishops of Sweden were first suffragans of the Archdiocese of Hamburg-Bremen, of which see St. Ansgar was archbishop when he died. Afterwards the Swedish bishops were suffragans of the Archbishop of Lund, Primate of Scandinavia. In 1152 Cardinal Nicholas of Albano, later Pope Adrian IV, visited Sweden and held a provincial synod at Linköping. He had been commissioned to establish an independent Church province in Sweden, but the matter was deferred, as the Swedes could not agree upon the see of the archbishop.

However, in 1164, Pope Alexander III established a separate ecclesiastical province of Sweden with the see at Upsala. The suffragans were the Bishops of Skara, Linköping, Strengnäs, and Westerås; at a later date the dioceses of Wexiö and Åbo in Finland were added. The first Archbishop of Upsala was Stephen, a Cistercian monk from the celebrated monastery of Alwastra. Cardinal William of Sabina came as papal legate to Sweden during the archiepiscopate of Jarler, a Dominican monk (1235-55). The legate had been commissioned, among other things, to establish cathedral chapters wherever such were lacking, and to grant them the exclusive right of electing the bishops. Another important matter which the legate had been ordered to carry out was the enforcement of the law of clerical celibacy . At a provincial synod held at Skenninge in 1248 under the presidency of the cardinal, the rules as to celibacy were made more severe. The pious and energetic Archbishop Jarler and his successor Laurentius (1257-67), a Franciscan, constantly strove to elevate the clergy and to enforce the law of celibacy. A century later the great saint of Sweden, St Bridget (d. 1373), laboured zealously for the enforcement of the same law.

A new era arose in the history of the archdiocese when Archbishop Folke (1274-77) transferred the see from Old Upsala to Aros, a town near by on the Fyris which was given the name of Upsala. This change was approved by the pope, the king, and the bishops. The relics of the national saint, St. Eric, were also transferred to the new see. The cathedral of Upsala, the most important church of Sweden and the largest in Scandinavia, was built by the French architect Etienne de Bonnuille in 1287. It was a masterpiece of the Gothic style, and is a monument of what Catholic art and Catholic self-sacrifice were able to create under the leadership of zealous archbishops and prelates. The labours of the archbishops extended in all directions. Some were zealous pastors of their flocks, such as Jarler and others; some were distinguished canonists, such as Birger Gregerson (1367-83) and Olof Larsson (1435-8); others were statesmen, such as Jöns Bengtsson Oxenstjerna (d. 1467), or capable administrators, such as Jacob Ulfsson Örnfot, who was distinguished as a prince of the Church, royal councillor, patron of art and learning, founder of the University of Upsala , and an efficient helper in the introduction of printing into Sweden. He died in the Carthusian monastery of Mariefred (Mary's Peace) in 1522. There were also scholars, such as Johannes Magnus (d. 1544), who wrote the "Historia de omnibus gothorum sueonumque regibus" and the "Historia metropolitan æ ecclesiæ upsaliensis", and his brother Olaus Magnus (d. 1588), who wrote the "Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus" and who was the last Archbishop of Upsala.

The archbishops and secular clergy found active co-workers among the regulars. Among the orders represented in Sweden were the Benedictines, Cistercians, Dominicans, Franciscans, Brigittines (with the mother-house at Wadstena), Carthusians, etc. The monks not only laboured in things spiritual, but were also the teachers of the people in agriculture and gardening. Still greater credit is due the members of the orders, both men and women, for their services in the intellectual training of the people of Sweden. A Swedish Protestant investigator, Carl Silfverstolpe, writes: "The monks were almost the sole bond of union in the Middle Ages between the civilization of the north and that of southern Europe, and it can be claimed that the active relations between our monasteries and those in southern lands were the arteries through which the higher civilization reached our country." The beneficial labours of the Catholic Church were forgotten in the stormy days of the Reformation, but in the present era they have been once more recognized by more dispassionate investigators. Dr. Claes Annerstedt, the historian of the University of Upsala, says: "One of the finest results of modern research is that the highly important labours of the Roman Church have received proper recognition by the exhibition of its services in the preservation and spread of civilization."


More Encyclopedia

The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed in fifteen hardcopy volumes.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.

No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.

Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912

Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Ephesians 4:1-6
1 I, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you therefore to ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 24:1-2, 3-4, 5-6
1 [Psalm Of David] To Yahweh belong the earth and all ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 12:54-59
54 He said again to the crowds, 'When you see a cloud ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for October 24th, 2014 Image

St. Anthony Mary Claret
October 24: Claretian archbishop and founder. Anthony was born in Salient in ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter