Erik the Lawgiver

The coat of arms of Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, features a bust of King Erik IX (d. 1160), also known as Erik the Lawgiver. Although never canonized, he is widely considered a saint, with his feast day on May 18. St. Stephen of Hungary, St. Louis of France, St. Edward of England, and St. Olaf of Norway are other such king-saints, although Erik is only patron of Stockholm, not all of Sweden (that would be Briget of Sweden [d. 1373], mystic and founder of the Bridgettines).

2000px-Stockholm_vapen_bra.svg

Via Wikipedia.

Erik’s remains may be found in a reliquary in Uppsala Cathedral – whence they were recently removed and analyzed by a team at Uppsala University, looking to confirm details of his life as they have come down to us. From Atlas Obscura:

Wednesday’s press release from Uppsala University explains the exhaustive interdisciplinary research the team utilized in the two years since they opened the reliquary and began their work, including radiocarbon dating, aDNA analysis (ancient DNA), isotope analysis, and forensic medicine. According to the researchers, 23 of the 24 bones in the reliquary belonged to the same individual—there’s also a bonus “mystery” shinbone—who was male, between 35 and 40 years old, and died around 1160. The skull shows signs of healed wounds that may have occurred in battle, aligning with the tales of a Finnish crusade. So far, so good.

But the most interesting discoveries surround Erik’s death. According to the researchers, “The saint’s legend says that in the king’s final battle, the enemy swarmed him, and when he fell to the ground they gave him wound after wound until he lay half dead. They then taunted him and finally cut off his head.” True to legend, Erik’s bones show signs of cuts inflicted in connection with his death and indicate that he was lying face-down during the injuries. Furthermore, one of his neck vertebra was cut through; not only is this consistent with decapitation, the injury could not have been inflicted during battle as the hauberks worn at the time would protect that part of the neck. This aligns with the legend’s assertion that he was swarmed in battle, captured, and taunted prior to his decapitation. So while the research doesn’t tell us much about what Erik was like as a person, the available evidence of the king’s death in no way contradicts the account in Catholic legend.