Blessed Hemming was the bishop of Fennia or Österland – then the eastern province OF the republic of Finland.

Hemming was one of the uttermosts prominent individuals among the Catholic bishops of the medieval times in Scandinavia. St Bridget of Sweden described him as “A very courageous man – without fear of men – devoted, yes, ascetical pious; a contemplative but at the same time an active and hardworking man.


Seal of Bishop Hemming.

The Early years:
There are little known about his early years but he was born around 1290 in Pålsbo a small village in Bälinge parish north of the city of Uppsala. He came from a fortunate Swedish family and had close contacts with Swedish nobility. He attended the Cathedral school at Uppsala and continued his studies in Paris, where he first took a degree in Arts, then in Theology and in Law. In Paris he had the forthcoming pope Clemens VI as teacher.

There is a mention of a Hemming who was a kanik, a canon priest, in Åbo in 1329, and this is most probably him they are referring to. According to common belief was Hemming imprisoned by king Magnus Ladulås because of some harsh words about a Swedish duke… Later he was however said to side with the king again, saying that he “rather have Magnus as a ruler, no matter what has been, then having the German regiment.” However there is not to my knowledge any historical proof of this incidence.

Bishop of Åbo:
In 1339 he was chosen unanimously, with divina inspiriatione, to the bishop chair of Åbo. He fought against worldly interference in the churchly domains of Finland, which’s excellence he also was an advocate for. He was held in very high esteem by his contemporary. He made wise laws and built numerous churches. He was concerned with the proper celebrations of the church feast and the Scandinavian saints, but also with administration of church property and for releasing the poor from payment of stipends for dispensations or for funerals.

Hemming supervised vividly the church taxes and even contradicted a verdict from the king in benefit for the people of Nyland, a Finnish region. In 1340 he established the dean office of Åbo Cathedral. He made a grand donation of 40 very valuable books, mostly theological literature, to the Åbo Cathedral and in this way founded the first library in Finland.

By gifts and trade he also increased the wealth and the properties of the diocese which had been looted by the Russians in 1318. He founded both a Cathedral school in Åbo and a hospital. He was not particularly involved in the state affairs of Sweden/Finland but in 1343 he took part in the union between the Swedish king and the southern parts of Scandinavia (Blekinge, Småland and Skåne). In 1346, together with the archbishop of Uppsala, he also laid out the borders between the dioceses of Swedish Uppsala and Finnish Åbo. In 1352 he finished his work Statua, with rules for the responsibilities of the Finnish priests and with Finland’s first Church Ordinance.

Hemming and Bridget
Blessed Bishop Hemming of Åbo and Saint Bridget of Sweden,
from the tabernacle at a church in Finland:An angel is
placing the Bishop’s mitre on Blessed Hemming’s head and a
pilgrim is kneeling at his feet.

Friendship with St Bridget:
He had a strong friendship with St Bridget of Sweden and he went to France a second time between 1347 until 1349, this time on St Brigit’s initiative. She chose him to accompany her confessor, the Cistercian Prior Peter of Alvastra, in a mission to his former teacher, Pope Clement VI at Avignon to try to convince him to move back to Rome and to urge him to reform his own lasciviousness and to cease supporting the King of France. Hemming also paid visit to the Kings of England and France with another revelation from Bridget, in an effort to try to achieve peace between the nations. Neither of those matters succeeded but a deep friendship between him and St Bridget was established.

From the revelations of St Bridget we can read about a dinner with Hemming where Hemming thought it was peculiar that Bridget didn’t hesitated herself in enjoying the food when she was a woman gifted by the holy spirit. Bridget did not now anything about what Hemming had thought but in the evening before Vesper, she had a revelation wherein a voice spoke to her: “Look, your neighbor at the table has problems with your meal” Hemming recognized that the revelation was about him and he apologized and asked for Bridget’s forgiveness and prayers.

On the third day thereafter Virgin Mary shows her self to Bridget and says: “Tell the bishop that – although he always begins his sermons with praising me and that his judgment was not out of ill will but of love – his love still needs to be mitigated. Tell him that I want to be for him a mother, and present his spirit before God.”

His later years:
He seemed to have a great pathos on behalf of Finland and worked for that the region should be treated as an equal to the other regions of Sweden and at the king’s election on February the 15th in 1362, by the initiative of Hemming, representatives of Österland partook in the election of Håkan Magnussons as the new king after Magnus Ladulås: Österland, the eastern country was thereafter an integrated and equal part of Sweden, until the Greater and the Lesser Wrath in the 1800-century, when Russia occupied Finland.

Well over 80 years old, bishop Hemming had his heavenly birthday 1366, The 21st of May which is now celebrated as his memorial day throughout Scandinavia.


The shrine were the remains of Blessed Hemming were placed in 1514.

The canonization process:
Blessed Hemming was buried in his cathedral in Åbo, where miracles were reported at his tomb. In July 16th, 1497 pope Alexander VI gave permission for the beatification of Hemming and his relics were enshrined in 1514. He’s supposed canonization which was planned to the year 1530 was abandoned due to the reformation.

Hemming today:
During the reformation devote Catholics hid the relics in the walls of the Cathedral in Åbo. When they where found during a restoration in the twentieth century the sacred relics were confiscated by the Finnish state and are now locked in the cellar of a museum. They are not on display. The Catholic community is trying to get the relics back so they once again can be revered.

The Catholic community of Finland is also having discussions with the Vatican to revive the canonization process. However the old documents in the Vatican archives must be located, further discussions between the authorities of the Catholic community in Finland and the proper instances in Vatican must continue further. Such a Canonization would indeed be very important in bringing Finland back to Catholicism.

There was also great interest in the 2007 years Autuaan Hemmingin pyhiinvaellus, the Blessed Hemming’s pilgrimage among both local press in Finland as well as by Catholic priests and even among the Lutheran parishes we passed along the road. I have great hope that this pilgrimage will be an annual tradition until the sainthood of Blessed Hemming is officially recognized.

The blessed Hemming oilgrimage
Autuaan Hemmingin pyhiinvaellus: Modern pilgrims in the
footsteps of Blessed Bishop Hemming.

To further the canonisation of Blessed Hemming:
– Autuas Hemming, rukoile puolestamme
.
– Salige Hemming, bed för oss.
Blessed Hemming, pray for us.

This text was based on the Swedish nineteenth century encyclopedia Nordisk Familjebok, the revelations of St. Bridget and the wonderful book “Biskop Hemming av Åbo” from 1960, by B. Klockars. Maiju Lehmijoki has written this interesting article about St Birgitta of Sweden’s influence in Finland.

See more pictures from the Blessed Hemming Pilgrimage 2007.

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