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Hemming (1290 - 1366)

beatus, bishop of Turku

Finlands medeltidssigill, 1900.

Hemming was one of the most notable medieval Finnish bishops. He was a bishop for almost thirty years, performed diplomatic duties abroad and was a close friend of St Birgitta. But what puts Hemming in a special position is the fact that he was the other Bishop of Turku, after St Henrik, to be beatified.

Hemming was one of the most notable medieval Finnish bishops. He was a bishop for 28 years, developed his diocese, performed diplomatic duties abroad and was a close friend of St Birgitta. But what elevates Hemming to a special position is the fact that he was the other Bishop of Turku, after St Henrik, to be beatified.

According to the Chronicle of Bishops, Hemming was born in 1290. This piece of information is not necessarily reliable, but his birth date was around 1300 at the latest. Hemming originally came from Sweden, from the parish of Bälinge near Uppsala, where he inherited a farm called Pålsbo. He was of a knightly family, but there is no more precise knowledge of his family roots. Apparently Hemming began his studies at the Uppsala Cathedral School and continued them at the University of Paris. The only source refers to theological studies in the early 1320s, but there are reasons to believe that he had previously studied at the Faculty of Arts. Hemming's theological studies were directed by Maître Pierre Roger (Petrus Rogerii), who later became Pope Clement VI.

After his studies, Hemming may have worked as a priest in the Archdiocese of Uppsala, but he did not belong to its Cathedral Chapter. In 1329 at the latest he received a canonry from the Diocese of Turku; this may have been associated with the office of Parish Priest of Kemiö. Hemming's move to the Diocese of Turku was obviously due to the influence of Bishop Bengt (Benedictus), who came from the same area of Sweden; Hemming is not known to have had any previous connections with Finland. After the death of Bishop Bengt, the Turku Cathedral Chapter elected Hemming as Bishop in November 1338. The election occurred via inspirationis - by spontaneous and unanimous acclamation. Hemming was consecrated a bishop in the Great Church in Stockholm, evidently in November 1339.

Hemming became energetically involved in the development of the diocese from the very beginning of his period as bishop. In 1340 he established the post of Dean of Turku Cathedral; the incumbent lived permanently in Turku and assisted the bishop in leading the diocese. Because the bishop did not have a town residence in Turku, Hemming acquired the Kairinen estate, which was in the direction of Kaarina but very close to the cathedral.

Turku Cathedral still bore the scars of the fire of 1318; to help finance the repairs, Hemming acquired letters of indulgence from the Pope and, in 1353, permission to transfer a third of the tithes gathered by the parish churches to the cathedral. Hemming had a new chancel built for the cathedral; this was evidently a five-sided chancel, which was later demolished. During his episcopacy the first side-altars were erected in the cathedral; a prebend, or altar fund, was associated with these. In 1354 Hemming also presented the cathedral with his library. This contained some forty books: works of the Church Fathers, more recent theological literature and a comprehensive collection of works on Canon Law.

Bishop Hemming strove to raise standards among the clergy of his diocese. He tightened adherence to the rule of celibacy and prohibited priests from moving to another diocese without permission from the bishop. From his episcopacy comes the first mention of a number of Finnish priests' undertaking university studies. In 1352 Hemming issued synodal statutes; the regulations contained in them mainly concerned finances, the external order of the Church, and the liturgy. These ordinances were mostly borrowed from older Swedish statutes, but they were modified to suit conditions in the Diocese of Turku.

In dealing with the affairs of his diocese, Hemming conducted a number of episcopal visitations. When a dispute arose with the Archbishop of Uppsala over the boundary between the dioceses, Hemming travelled all the way to Tornio in 1346. There he met his namesake, Archbishop Hemming, and reached agreement with him that the diocesan boundary should run between the parishes of Tornio and Kemi.

Bishop Hemming developed and improved the system of ecclesiastical taxes in his diocese and strengthened the position of the Bishop of Turku. He personally issued tax regulations for the different provinces of Finland and also asked the king to issue such regulations. For the Turku episcopal, Hemming also acquired numerous farms - as far as is known, more than any other bishop of Turku. he tenaciously defended the rights of the bishop - for example, when a dispute arose over the bishop's share of fish catches or the collection of fees.

Bishop Hemming stated that he supported the position of Canon Law, according to which the temporal authorities had no powers to intervene in ecclesiastical affairs. On several occasions, however, he was forced to turn to King Magnus II for help in order to resolve disputes concerning taxes and the rights of a bishop. In 1351 the king handed over to Padis Monastery in Estonia the patronage rights to the Parish of Porvoo and to the chapels at Pernaja and Sipoo. Initially Hemming had to acquiesce; but he succeeded in having the monastery's rights temporarily annulled in 1362.

During Hemming's episcopacy, the Diocese of Turku increasingly became a target of the Pope's taxation and appointments policies. In order to prevent the king from taking advantage of this situation, as he was doing in Sweden, Hemming negotiated an agreement (1352) which precisely delimited the king's patronage rights in Finland. By contrast, Hemming was on good terms with the archbishops of Uppsala.

Hemming was one of the circle of friends of the Swedish visionary Birgitta and enjoyed her trust. Birgitta has given us a many-sided description of Hemming's character: on the one hand daring, active and energetic; on the other, humble, pious and disciplined - positively ascetic. At Birgitta's behest Hemming travelled to France, probably in 1348, with Petrus Olavi, the Prior of Alvastra Monastery. Their mission was to convey to Pope Clement VI, who was residing at Avignon - and to Edward III of England and Philip VI of France - messages from Birgitta clothed in the form of revelationes. Hemming's voyage did not, however, bring about the desired results.

Presumably Bishop Hemming shared Birgitta's view that the time was ripe to convert the Karelians beyond the border to Roman Catholicism. There is, however, no indication that he took an active part in King Magnus II's crusade plans, which led to the unsuccessful campaign against Russia in 1348 - 50. The enterprise included a plan to establish in Karelia a diocese of its own, an idea which Bishop Hemming would hardly have supported. As a result of the campaign, the king was forced to take out a loan from the Pope's tax revenues, and Hemming and the other Swedish bishops had to act as guarantors. Hemming was later obliged, under threat of excommunication, to pay off this loan, the Pope even confiscating his posthumous estate.

In Sweden a political crisis erupted in the 1350s, and Bishop Hemming could not avoid taking a stand. He had earlier been on good terms with King Magnus II, but relations had cooled because of the king's inept handling of his debts. Thus Hemming attempted to remain neutral in the quarrels between the king and his sons Erik and Håkan. Despite this balancing act, in 1360 Hemming evidently fell into such disfavour with Magnus that the king had him imprisoned for some time. Hemming was freed in 1362 at the latest, when he set his seal to a letter of King Håkan granting representatives of Finland the right to participate in the election of the king of Sweden. During the power struggle between Magnus II and Albert of Mecklenburg, Bishop Hemming initially supported Magnus, but went over to Albert after the latter had consolidated his position as king. In 1364 Albert confirmed the prerogatives of the Bishop and Cathedral of Turku.

Bishop Hemming died in May 1366 - according to some sources, suddenly. He was buried in the chancel that he had built at Turku Cathedral. After his death, an aura of sanctity began to develop around his memory, primarily because of his close association with St Birgitta. As early as 1416, miraculous events claimed to be connected with Hemming began to be recorded in Turku. There already existed a popular cult asserting his sanctity, but apparently no application for the Pope's official confirmation of Hemming's sainthood was made until the late 15th century.

In 1497 the Pope granted permission for Hemming to be venerated as beatus - blessed - in the Nordic countries and for his remains to be moved from his tomb to a reliquary. Hemming's beatification ceremony - the moving of his sacred remains - could not, however, be performed until 1514 because of the unsettled conditions at the beginning of the 16th century. The Reformation put an end to the process of Hemming's canonisation, so that he did not become an actual saint - a sanctus - but remained a beatus.

Turku Cathedral possesses a wooden casket for sacred remains. According to the general view, this is Hemming's reliquary, although it has also been suggested that it may be the reliquary of St Henrik. In the casket are preserved parts of the skeleton of an elderly, powerfully built man - a description which seems to fit Bishop Hemming. No church in Finland possesses a sacred picture known with certainty to be of Hemming, but a picture in the former altar screen of Urjala Church probably depicts him.

Ari-Pekka Palola

Translated by Roderick Fletcher


Hemming (Hemmingus), born c. 1290 Bälinge, Uppland, Sweden, died 21.5.1366 Turku, buried in Turku Cathedral. Parents: Swedish nobleman, name unknown, and Katarina, family name unknown.

© Biografiakeskus, Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, PL 259, 00171 HELSINKI

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