Sanctus Ericus rex Danus (Plovpenning)
by Haki Antonsson
Erik Plovpenning was born in 1216, the first-born child of King Valdemar II Sejr (“the Victorious”) and Berengaria of Portugal. He became king in 1241 but was betrayed and murdered by the henchmen of his brother, Abel. In 1258 King Christopher had Erik’s remains moved to the monastic church at Ringsted which, of course, hosted the shrine of St. Knud Lavard. This act should be seen in the context of the king’s unsuccessful attempt around that time to have Erik Plovpenning canonized by the pope (CHRISTIANSEN 1966, 22). No independent Life or passio of Erik exists although his martyr-like death is presented in Danish chronicles and annals, most notably in Genelogia regum Daniae (GERTZ 1908-1912, 525-30).
De miraculis Sancti Erici Regis Danorum (The Miracles of St Erik, king of Denmark).
- GERTZ, M.CL. 1908-1912: VSD, Copenhagen, 420-45.
(Danish) OLRIK, H. 1893 (repr. 1968): Danske Helgernes Levned 1, Copenhagen, 374-406.
Date and place
OLRIK put forward the hypothesis that on a visit to Ringsted Johannes from Odense (see below) compiled the De miraculis sancti Erici Regis Danorum. For this purpose he made use of the miracle-registry of Ringsted from the period 1258-1274. Johannes then added to this collection the miracle he himself recorded in 1309 (OLRIK 1893, 378). The impressive collection of miracles from the third quarter of the thirteenth century probably reflects the promotion of Erik’s sanctity by King Christopher I and the Ringsted community; perhaps with his papal canonization in mind.
Summary of contents
The Miracula begins with a prologue that tells that Erik was imprisoned by his brother, Abel, and subsequently decapitated and his body thrown into the water. His corporal remains were then translated to Ringsted under the auspices of King Christopher. Fifty miracles then occurred at Erik’s grave in Ringsted (around half) or in other locations, in response to prayers or offerings to the saint. The first miracle happened during the translation of Erik while the closing miracle (no. 50) is dated to 1309; all the other miracles take place between 1258 and 1272. Indeed miracle no. 50 is noteworthy as it is recorded in verse rather prose; moreover, a certain brother Johannes from Odense reveals himself as the writer.
A distinctive, and perhaps surprising, feature of De miraculis sancti Erici Regis Danorum, is the prominence of people from Sweden (10 cases), Norway (4 instances) and Skåne (6 cases). Another noteworthy aspect of the collection is the care with which the names and place of origin of those involved are recorded. In some of the miracles witnesses are also mentioned. It should be noted that OLRIK, in his Danish translation of the Miracula, identified the people involved that appear in other medieval sources (OLRIK 1893, 381-403).
Medieval reception and transmission
De miraculis sancti Erici is preserved in two copies from the seventeenth century, both in Copenhagen, on in the Royal Library, Add. 90 fol., and one in the Arnamagnæan Institute, AM 1049, 4°, which GERTZ considers the better of the two.
- CHRISTIANSEN, C.A. 1966: “Drabet på Erik 4. Plovpennig og den begyndende legende-dannelse,” Kirkehistorkiske Samlinger, ser. 7, vol. 6, 21-43.
- GAD, T. 1961: Legenden i dansk middelalder, Copenhagen, 167-69.
- HOFFMANN, E. 1975: Die heiligen Könige bei den Angelsachsen und den scandinavischen Völkern. Königsheiliger und Königshaus. (Quellen und Forchungen zur Geschicte Schleswig-Holsteins Band 69), Neumünster.
- KRÖTZL, C. 1994: Pilger, Mirakel und Alltag. Formen des Verhaltens im skandinavischen Mittelalter (12.-15. Jahrhundert) (Societas Historica Finlandiae, Studia Historica 46), Helsinki, 73-74.