One of the medieval saints of the Catholic Church was Erik the Lawgiver. He was also called Erik Jedvardsson, and was said to rule Sweden from 1150 to May 18, 1160. There were no contemporary Swedish accounts of his reign, although he is briefly mentioned in the Sverissaga, a Norwegian epic written around the time he was said to be alive. All of our information comes from later legends that were written with the aim of making him a saint. However, there have been recent developments that Erik was an actual person.
Erik was a rival king to Sverker the Elder, and like most Swedish royalty came from Geatish nobility. The provinces acknowledged him and he became king of Sweden in 1150. At that time, he codified Swedish law, which became the King Erik’s Law or the Law of Uppland. A devout Christian, Erik founded a monastery in Old Uppsala, which was an offshoot from a monastery in Odense in Norway. In 1155, Erik and Bishop Henry of Uppsala traveled to Finland to convert the pagan Fins to Christianity. The dates of the First Swedish Crusade are in dispute as there is no archeological evidence of the fights and there is no written evidence of Finland being under Swedish control until 1240. Legends state that Erik returned home to Sweden after the crusade, leaving Bishop Henry in Finland to save souls. Eventually, Bishop Henry was martyred.
Back in Sweden, Erik insisted that tithes be paid to support the Church as they were elsewhere in Europe. This did not go over well with the jarls, and they banded together with Magnus Henriksson. They were not going to give their hard earned cash to any clergymen. Erik was leaving mass after attending on Ascension Day in May of 1160 when he was confronted by Magnus and his men. Erik was pulled from his horse, and Magnus and his men beat the fallen king. Then they taunted him as he lay bleeding on the ground, finally beheading him. He was buried in the church he built at Old Uppsala, then transferred in 1167 to the cathedral built on the spot he was martyred. His bones remained in a reliquary there and Erik is the patron saint of Stockholm and is depicted in its coat of arms. His son Canute I eventually seceded him and even venerated his father as a martyr and a saint to consolidate his own position on the throne. According to Omer Englebert in “Lives of the Saints”, the banner of St. Erik has the same reverence and position of the banner of St. George in England and was a source of national identity.
Many academics felt this was purely legend, but as further studies have shown sometimes legend and fact blend. A research team has opened the reliquary and studied the bones found within. After two years of study, they have announced their findings. Twenty-three of the twenty-four bones in the reliquary belong to the same individual, a male between 35 and 40 years old who died in 1160. No one is sure who the mystery shin bone belongs to or why it was included in the reliquary. The bones show healed wounds that would be consistent with warfare of the day. The bones also show unhealed wounds that forensics show would have been received while the person was lying face down. This is consistent with the legend where Erik’s assailants beat him while he was on the ground. The final piece of evidence was the body in the reliquary had been decapitated. The wounds inflicted show the neck vertebrae as being sliced through. This could not have happened in battle as a mail hauberk would have protected that area.
Further study is scheduled to be done on the bones, but so far everything found is compatible with the legend. So maybe there is a grain of truth among the stories.
Sources available on request.