TillbakaNotions of the Heavenly

St Erik

Figure of saint, representing St Erik, in polychrome broadleaf wood. Made c. 1500 in Haaken Gulleson’s workshop in Hälsingland. The figure was carved for Bollnäs Church but is now in the Hälsingland museum.

St Erik is clad in a full-length, long-sleeved gown with a brown leather orphrey. Round his waist hangs a heavy, golden knightly belt, made up of wide, decorated links in several layers. Over his gown he wears a golden mantle lined with ermine. On his head, with its golden curly hair, he wears a golden crown with a wide brow and tall foliage-work spires.

As an attribute, Erik holds an octagonal ciborium in his left hand. In his right he probably once held a sceptre or sword, now missing. A little man huddles beneath the saint’s feet. He is wearing a close-fitting dress and has unbuttoned his hose, baring his rear parts. He is making a rude face by poking his fingers into the corners of his mouth and pulling them together.

The iconography of this carving alludes to the legend of St Erik, which relates how King Erik Jedvardsson of Sweden, later to become St Erik, was hearing mass in Holy Trinity Church, Uppsala, on Ascension Day 1160 when a messenger entered, informing him that his enemies, led by the Danish pretender, had assembled in arms outside. Erik, refusing to be distracted from his devotions, stayed till the end of mass before venturing forth to do battle with his adversaries. He was killed in the fight and his body desecrated.

On the very spot where he had met his death, the story continues, a spring welled up, and later Uppsala Cathedral was built in the place where he had been hearing mass. The cult of St Erik grew strong in the 13th century. It had a particularly devoted following among Swedish royalty, and St Erik was also made the patron saint of Uppsala Cathedral, Stockholm and all Sweden.