Today, 12 Jun 2012, is the memorial of St Eskil (a.k.a. Aeschilus), who lived in 11th century Sweden. He was sent into Sweden as a bishop to help those who had reverted to Norse gods to return to Christian faith. In the end his efforts were crowned with martyrdom.
Other than the approximate date of his death (1080-1082), no other dates are known with any certainty about St Eskil. Together with St Sigfrid, he left England to assist with the re-Christianisation of Scandinavia. St Sigfrid was a monk at Glastonbury who was asked by King Ethelred to help bring Christ to those under Viking kingship. In all likelihood Eskil was a relative of Sigfrid’s, since he took other relatives with him to Scandinavia. There is a fair amount of speculation that Sigfrid, Eskil and the others may have been the children of Vikings who settled in England and who had enough knowledge of the languages in Norway and Sweden to make themselves understood.
Sigfrid centered his evangelistic efforts around Vaexjoe in southern Sweden, and Eskil centred his efforts around Tuna (now Eskilstuna) to the west of current day Stockholm. Initially the mission went well, because King Inge was supportive of Christianity. When King Inge was murdered, someone with a hatred to Christianity, Sweyn the Bloody took his place. As a result many of those who had been evangelised were wavering in their resolve and returning to the old norse religious practices.
Since St Eskil was filled with the same Spirit which enlivened St Paul the Apostle’s ministry, ‘My children ! I must go through the pain of giving birth to you all over again, until Christ is formed in you.’ (Gal 4 : 19), he had to do something to help his people stay true to Jesus and not backslide. When a big festival in honour of the Norse gods was underway in Strangnas, a 30km journey east of Tuna, Eskil went there. To his great distress he saw many of his Christian flock taking part in the festival and turning away from the worship of the one true God. With great love and ardour he spoke to them and tried to persuade them to renounce these pagan practices. Seeing that he wasn’t getting through to them, Eskil had recourse to prayer just like the prophet Elijah had done many centuries before. He pleaded that God show a visible sign to everyone at the festival, so that they may understand which God was the true God. In answer, the Eternal Father sent a violent hail storm which ruined the festival completely, and which went nowhere near Eskil and his companions.
Sweyn didn’t see this display as an act of God, but as an act of magic and as a disruption to the Norse ritual. Frightened of magic and the unknown, Sweyn and the crowd responded violently. Giving the order to kill Eskil, the crowd picked up rocks and stoned him until he was dead. Afterwards Eskil’s companions took his bodily remains back to Tuna and buried him at the monastery. At one point during the journey, Eskil’s remains were placed on the ground and where that happened a miraculous spring of water emerged that still flows today.
In due time, having been watered with St Eskil’s blood, Christianity flourished in this region and a cathedral was built at the site where the pagan rituals were conducted.
If we have loved ones who are drifting away from God, St Eskil is the heavenly intercessor to turn to in order to win the grace to bring them back.
St Eskil, pray for us, for all missionary bishops, and for all Christians wavering in their faith.