Today (28 July) we commemorate St. Arduinus the pilgrim, patron saint of Trepino (7th C). Only celt-saints has anything to say about him, and that very little: he may have been an English pilgrim to Italy..
So I will bring up another saint, this time a Swedish one with English connections: St Botvid. I am working on a list of Scandinavian saints. Her is a translation of an article from the newletter of one of the Russian parishes in Stockholm:
St Botvid, a saint at the time of Sweden’s Christianisation
The 11th century was the period when the Christianisation of Sweden seriously began to take off. During this period was the most intense struggle between paganism and the Christian faith, while churches were built, monasteries founded, many baptised and battles fought.
Botvid was a young man who during this period undertook a business trip to the coast of England. There he stayed over the winter in the house of a priest who taught him much by his humble personality, instructed him in the Christian faith and finally offered him baptism. Botvid was baptised and sailed home with the knowledge that his task was to spread the faith in the land of his fathers. Many were his good deeds and tireless efforts for the salvation of souls. In the legend recorded for his canonization in the 12th century, one can read, among other things, about a wondrous fishing trip.
Botvid had gone out with his neighbours to set nets in the usual fishing place. When they had set out the nets, the man who owned the adjacent island came and said that they should give him a quarter of their catch. Botvid humbly asked him not to make such a demand, for what God gave for nothing should be shared with others at the same price. But the man did not listen to him at all. Then Botvid took his boat and rowed away to the bay by his own island, but the shoal of fish followed in his wake. When they arrived, Botvid went ashore and told his men to go out and lay out the nets. He himself knelt with tears and prayers to the Lord. And lo! Scarcely had they managed to set the nets before they were full of fish. Then Botvid stood up on a high rock and called to his neighbours to come and see what God had given them. And they came rowing from all directions. They asked Botvid to let them set their nets also in that place, because they had tried all night without catching any fish at all. They told him that they would give him the same consideration that the other man had requested, but Botvid replied that ‘what he had come by for nothing, he would never take payment for.’ So they put out their nets and, rejoicing, filled their boats with a great catch. At last the man came who had demanded payment. He humbled himself before Botvid and said that if he might only lay his net in that water, he would give Botvid twice what he himself had demanded. But by no means would Botvid agree to this, but rather let the man set his nets like the others, with the words, ‘What God gives you, I grant you gladly for nothing.’ But the man who set out his nets did not get a single fish in them.
When Botvid saw God’s judgement in this matter, he was sorry for the man. ‘I see now that God is angry with you, because he does not give you fish with the others. But hear now, if you repent, turn to God and believe in Him, I will let you cast your net again, and I will pray that God will grant you food like the rest.’ The man promised Botvid to do as he said, and what Botvid had predicted came true. Botvid then said to his relatives and countrymen, ‘I urge you all now, my friends, that you never ever deny someone what God generously gives you for nothing.’ This is why St Botvid is usually portrayed with a fish in one hand.
In his other hand St Botvid usually holds an axe. This is in memory of his martyrdom. The legend goes like this:
Botvid had bought and freed a Slav slave [!]; he had instructed him in the Christian faith and given him his freedom. Botvid then thought that he should send this servant home to his people, with a mission to spread the Christian faith to them. He prepared the man for the journey. Botvid’s intention was that they should seek out one of the ships that went to Gotland, and Botvid should ask the skipper to take responsibility for his servant’s safety and see that he went across the sea without mishap. But they sailed the length and breadth of the coast without finding a ship that would go to Gotland. Eventually they landed on an island. Botvid prayed to the Lord, and then fell asleep, exhausted by all these hardships, under a pine tree. With him on the journey they also had another of Botvid’s servants, Esbjörn, who also fell asleep next to his master. The Slavic man was now tempted to reward good with evil. He too an axe and killed Botvid where he lay sleeping. He also cut off Esbjörn’s head, then took the boat and sailed away.
Soon Botvid’s family began to be seriously worried about him, but nobody had seen him, the boat or the man. After a while his brother Björn gathered all his friends and relations, and after praying together, they set out on the sea to look for Botvid. Also on the boat was a priest named Henrik. But they had no idea where they should go. Then suddenly a little white bird came and sat on the bow. The crew wanted to catch it, for they had never seen such a bird before, but the priest told them to let it alone, for he believed that the bird had come to help them find the way to the place where they would find Botvid’s body. They had all given up hope of finding him alive by this time. And sure enough, the white bird sometimes flew ahead of them on the journey, and sometimes sat in the bow. Suddenly it flew over to an island and hovered over a tall pine. They went ashore and found first Esbjörn’s remains, and then, lying a little further away, under the pine tree, Botvid’s. His body was completely preserved, he lay on his side as if sleeping peacefully, and even his clothing was whole. They took Botvid’s body with them, and when they lifted it, a fountain sprang from the earth wher eit had lain. The white bird had completely disappeared…
The island where this happened is called Rågö (Rye Island). It is located in the Södermanland archipelago, just north of Nyköping in the parish of Tystberga. There is still a cross there to the memory of St Botvid, and every year on his feast day (28 July) there is a pilgrimage to the spot. If you look in the Swedish almanac for that day, you will find Botvid’s name. His cultus (devotion) was great during the Middle Ages. He performed many miracles, including restoring sight to the blind. And Botkyrka is named thus because this was the church where his holy relics were preserved until the Reformation.
Holy Botvid, pray to God for us!
-Swedish original by Iohanna Schönqvist of Kristi Förklarings ortodoxa församling (Transfiguration parish) in Stockholm
Dr Baring-Gould provides only the story of his martyrdom.
Antiphon for Little Vespers (Swedish translation from Latin)
Du fäders kyrka prisa säll
barmhärtighetens Gud ikväll
som i sin nåd och godhet gav
åt Botvid undergörar makt
och bjöd oss troget hålla vakt
om dett helgons namn och grav
[lit. Thou, fathers’ church praise blessed – I am hoping my regular Swedish-speaking reader will help me out with the translation of the first line, which is in rather poetic word order, so I’m confused. Swedish like English is not highly inflected and depends a lot of word order… for instance, what on earth does säll go with? Barmihertighetens Gud? kyrka?]
God of Mercy this evening
who in his mercy and kindness gave
miraculous power to Botvid
and commanded us to faithfully keep watch
and commanded us to faithfully keep watch
over this saint’s name and burial.
Den helige Botvid, bed till Gud för oss!