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Thomas (bishop of Finland)

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Bishop of Finland
Church Catholic
Diocese Finland
See presumably Nousiainen
In office 1234? – 1245
Predecessor Unknown
Successor Bero (Björn)
Personal details
Born Unknown
Died 1248
Visby, Gotland

Thomas (Finnish: Tuomas) is the first known Bishop of Finland. Only a few facts are known about his life. He resigned in 1245 and died in Visby three years later.


The only reference to Bishop Thomas during his episcopate in Finland is a letter signed by him in Nousiainen in 1234, which granted certain lands around the parish to his chaplain Wilhelm.[1] The lands may be related to the papal permission from Pope Gregory IX in early 1229 that authorized the church to take over all non-Christian places of worship in Finland.[2] The letter is the oldest surviving letter written in Finland.

No further information on the bishop's activities has survived before he was granted resignation by Pope Innocent IV on 21 February 1245.[3] According to the Pope, Thomas had admitted committing several felonies, such as torturing a man to death, and forging a papal letter.[4] Church representatives to oversee the resignation were the Archbishop of Uppsala and the Dominican prior of the Dacian province.[5] Thomas donated his books to the newly established Dominican convent in Sigtuna[6] and went on to live his last years in the Dominican convent in Visby, Gotland. He died there in 1248,[7] shortly before the Second Swedish Crusade, which cemented Swedish rule in Finland for more than 550 years.

Finland was briefly under the same papal legate as the Teutonic knights.

During Thomas' episcopate, Finland is listed among the lands under the papal legate in the Baltic region, originally the Bishop of Zemgale, Baldwin, and then William of Modena, first on 28 January 1232 and last on 15 July 1244.[8] This was a radical realignment of the bishopric's position, since the Pope had earlier used Swedish bishops to assist the Finnish church, as evident from papal letters from 1171 (or 1172), 1221 and 1229. On 24 November 1232, the Pope even asked the Livonian Brothers of the Sword to provide forces for the unnamed Bishop of Finland to defend the country against the Novgorodian attacks.[9]

After Thomas had resigned in 1245, there was no immediate successor to him. The diocese was overseen by William at least until 5 June 1248.[10] Finland is not listed among the Swedish dioceses in surviving documents from 1241 and 1248, but appears among them in 1253.[11]

Even though Thomas is the first known Bishop of Finland, it is certain that he was not the first bishop overall. An unnamed Bishop of Finland is mentioned dead in a letter by Pope Innocent III already in 1209.[12] A 15th-century chronicle names bishops Henry, Rodulff and Folquinus before him, but no indisputable records survive of them.


Being the first historical figure of importance in Finland, historians have tried to attribute more significance to Thomas than what is evident from the existing sources.[13]

Unknown bishop in the 1220s[edit]

Christianization of Finland
Seal of bishop bero of finland.gif
Bishops: ThomasHenry
Popes: Alexander III
Innocent IIIGregory IX
Archbishops: Anders
Others: Birger Jarl
SergiusLalliKing Eric
Turku Cathedral
Finnish-Novgorodian wars
First Swedish Crusade
Second Swedish Crusade
Third Swedish Crusade

Most commonly, Thomas is speculated to have been the unnamed Bishop of Finland to whom Pope Gregory IX replied in January 1229 with several letters of great importance to the church,[14] in the aftermath of major Finnish losses in the battle against the Republic of Novgorod. Church representatives ordered by the Pope to assist the unnamed bishop were the Bishop of Linköping and the Cistercian abbot in Gotland.[15]

Cistercians dominated northern missionary work until the early 1230s.

Thomas' identification with the bishop remains doubtful. A surviving letter by Pope Gregory IX directly to the chaplain of Nousiainen on 20 October 1232 makes the Finnish see appear vacant.[16] The letter handled the same land dispute that Thomas himself addressed two years later. In some copies of the letter, the Bishop of Finland is also referred to as "N.",[17] while not directly saying whether he was still in office or not.

A papal letter to an unknown Bishop of Finland was also sent already in 1221.[18]

Uprising in Tavastia[edit]

Violent anti-church clashes in Tavastia, central Finland, mentioned in a letter by Pope Gregorius IX in 1237, have been attributed to Thomas' harsh methods of Christianization, but without direct evidence for that conjecture.[19] The letter, addressed to the Archbishop of Uppsala, does not mention the Bishop or Diocese of Finland in any way. Information about the uprising had also originated from the temporarily sidelined Archbishop, who seems to have used the occasion to remind the Pope about Uppsala's earlier contributions to the missionary work in the north. The Pope had clearly not known where Tavastia exactly was, and eloquently urged the Archbishop to send in a crusade.[citation needed]

The Livonian Brothers of the Sword had been all but annihilated in the Battle of Saule in 1236. Even if there is no other evidence of their presence in Finland than the earlier papal letter from 1232, both the Archbishop and the Tavastians seem to have been on the move right after their demise. There had also been a revolt against the Germans in Estonia in 1236.

Based on the letter, some historians have tried to date the so-called Second Swedish Crusade to 1238 or 1239, listing it as Thomas' accomplishments as well.

Battle of the Neva[edit]

Thomas is also speculated to have been one of the driving forces behind the Battle of the Neva, a disputed Swedish-Novgorodian conflict that took place in 1240. The speculation is based on the 14th-century Russian Primary Chronicle mention of Finns and Tavastians fighting on the Swedish side, which according to some historians would have been organized by the bishop. However, as the Chronicle also lists the very unlikely Norwegians as allies,[20] the information is often regarded as mid-14th century propaganda, depicting Sweden as being in control of Norway, Finland and Tavastia.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Letter by Bishop Thomas to his chaplain". Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. . In Latin. Hosted by the National Archive of Finland. See "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 8 June 2007. Retrieved 29 May 2007.  and Diplomatarium Fennicum from the menu.
  2. ^ "Letter by Pope Gregory IX". Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. . In Latin.
  3. ^ "Letter by Pope Innocent IV". Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. . In Latin.
  4. ^ A mid-15th century chronicle Chronicon episcoporum Finlandensium by an unknown writer claimed that the reason for bishop's resignation was "fury of Curonians and Russians".
  5. ^ Dominican Dacian province covered Denmark and other Scandinavia. See [1].
  6. ^ "Confirmation of the donation". Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. . In Latin. One of the books ("Cod. Ups. C 134") still survives, with a curse written on it by the monks in case someone steals it. See also [2].
  7. ^ The year of his death is from the Chronicon episcoporum Finlandensium.
  8. ^ See Finland (Vinlandie, Winlandiam) mentioned among the lands under the legate: [3], [4] and [5]. All in Latin.
  9. ^ "Letter by Pope Gregory IX". Archived from the original on 2007-08-14. . In Latin.
  10. ^ "Letter by William of Modena to the priest of Finland". Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. . In Latin.
  11. ^ Suomen varhaiskeskiajan lähteitä, 1989. ISBN 951-96006-1-2.
  12. ^ "Letter by Pope Innocent III". Archived from the original on 2007-08-14.  to the Archbishop of Lund. In Latin.
  13. ^ See Suomalaisten keskiaika – myytit ja todellisuus. Risto Kari 2004. Pages 103–108. ISBN 951-0-28321-5. The book is in Finnish.
  14. ^ Bishop's original letters have not survived. See Pope's letters: [6], [7], [8], [9], [10], [11], [12]. All in Latin.
  15. ^ Complementing orders for blocking the harbours from Russian merchants were also given to a Cistercian abbot in Dünamünde and a Benedictine abbot in Lübeck.
  16. ^ "Letter by Pope Gregory IX to the chaplain in Nousiainen". Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. . In Latin.
  17. ^ The letter may originally have also been "H." or "W.", easily mistaken by later copyists.
  18. ^ "Pope Honorius III to Bishop of Finland". Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. . In Latin.
  19. ^ "Letter by Pope Gregory IX about an uprising against the church in Tavastia". Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. . In Latin.
  20. ^ Norway and Sweden were on the brink of war from 1225 until the Treaty of Lödöse in 1249.