Saint Eskil

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Saint Eskil
Overselo L1valv4a detail (left).jpg
Eskil, depicted as a bishop with his attribute, three stones. Painting in the church of Överselö, Sweden.
Bishop and martyr
Born England
Died 1069
Strängnäs, Sweden
Honored in
Roman Catholic Church
Feast June 12 (June 11 in the Diocese of Strängnäs)
Attributes episcopal attire; three stones
Patronage Södermanland; the Diocese of Strängnäs
Not to be confused with Eskil of Lund.

Saint Eskil (d. 1069) was an Anglo-Saxon monk particularly venerated during the end of the 11th century in the Province of Södermanland, Sweden. He was the founder of the first Diocese of the lands surrounding Lake Mälaren, today the Diocese of Strängnäs. He is the patron saint of Södermanland and the Diocese of Strängnäs.

Saint Eskil was sent as a Missionary Bishop to the Lake Mälaren landscapes by Saint Sigfrid of Växjö along with Saint Botvid and Saint David. Botvid lies buried in Botkyrka, today a suburb of Stockholm in the east of Södermanland. All three saints are known to have perished trying to Christianize the people living around Lake Mälaren and both Eskil and Botvid have been made patron saints of Södermanland County. David has been made patron saint of Västerås and the province of Västmanland. They all are sources of several medieval legends.

Saint Eskil made the village of Tuna (present day Eskilstuna) his missionary diocese and later, around 1080, he made a 30 kilometre journey east of Tuna to Strängnäs, an Old Norse holy place. Saint Eskil was stoned to death, according to tradition, because he disrupted a holy ritual. Saint Eskil's followers decided to take his corpse back to Tuna. The local tradition says that during that journey, his body was placed on the ground and that a miraculous spring gushed from that spot, and started to flow out of the mountain side just outside Strängnäs. The spring is known as the Spring of Saint Eskil.

Saint Eskil was buried in his monastery in Tuna. Strängnäs was later converted into Christianity and the diocese that Eskil had created in Tuna was moved or re-created in Strängnäs.

Veneration[edit]

Strängnäs Cathedral was later built on the same site of the pagan ritual Eskil had observed. This is confirmed, since the hill where the Cathedral now stands is known to have been the ritual site and that the first wooden church built there was dedicated to Saint Eskil. The old church and burial site of Saint Eskil in Tuna later became one of the first monasteries in the region. When Tuna got priviligies, "Eskil" was added into the name, creating Eskilstuna.

Eskil probably lived during the reign of King Inge the Elder at the end of the 11th century. According to the source closest in time, a legend of the Danish king Saint Canute, authored about 1122 by Ælnoth from Canterbury, an Anglo-Saxon priest who had settled in Denmark, an "Eskillinus", an English bishop of noble origins, was killed by the "wild barbarians" (specified as the Suethi et Gothi, i.e. Swedes and Geats) among whom he was preaching the gospel.

In its more developed form, the legend of Eskil is attested from the 13th century and known from a few different sources: according to this, he was successful in his mission during the reign of King Inge, but killed by Blot-Sweyn when trying to stop a pagan sacrifice on the hill where the Strängnäs Cathedral now stands. He is said to have been killed by stoning and with axes, and the stones later became his attribute. The legend shows stylistic influence from various sources, including the legend of Saint Olaf of Norway.

The veneration of Eskil spread in Sweden and to Denmark (Odense) and Norway (Trondheim). Eskil's feast (and purported day of death) was on 11 June, but it was later moved, except in the Diocese of Strängnäs, to June 12 in order not to collide with the Feast of Barnabas. Relics of Eskil existed in the church of Eskilstuna, which was traditionally seen as his burial place, as well as in other churches within the Diocese of Strängnäs, elsewhere in Sweden, and in Roskilde and Copenhagen in Denmark.

References[edit]

  • Toni Schmid, "Eskil", Svenskt biografiskt lexikon, vol. 14, p. 518-522.
  • The Diocese of Strängnäs, Strängnäs domkyrkas historia, Pamphlet available from the Diocese