Sanctus Botvidus

From Medieval

by Peter Ståhl

St. Botvid is one of Sweden’s patron saints and, beside St. Eskil, called the apostle of Södermanland (Swedish province). He is supposed to have died ca. 1120 (see also Date and place below). According to the legend he received the Christian baptism while staying in England. After his return to Sweden he worked for the propagation of the Christian faith until he was killed by a freedman on a journey to Gotland. Botvid’s martyrdom took place on the little island Rogö (in the parish of Tystberga, Södermanland). On the initiative of Botvid’s brother Björn, a wooden church was built in honour of the saint at the family estate in 1129. In 1176 this church, situated in Botkyrka (between Södertälje and Stockholm) in the Diocese of Strängnäs, was replaced by a stone church. Most probably, this was also the occasion of the saint’s translation. The feast of Botvid was celebrated on 28 July.



Omnibus legentibus et audientibus


gracias Deo et sancto referens Botvido.


5 pages.


• SRS II:1, Uppsala 1828, 377-82.


(Swedish) LUNDÉN, T. 1983: Sveriges missionärer, helgon och kyrkogrundare. En bok om Sveriges kristnande, Malmö.

Date and place

The traditional year of Botvid’s death is 1120, but some scholars have proposed the possibility that the martyrdom took place already around 1080 (KUMLIEN 1962, 277 with n. 89; TROTZIG 1987, 56). The Swedish seventeenth century historian, Johannes Messenius, assumed that Botvid returned from England to Sweden in 1055 and that he died in 1076 (cfr TROTZIG 1987, 56 with n. 10). In the beginning of the text (see Composition and style), the anonymous author declares that the legend is written down “by request from the brothers who are serving at [St. Botvid’s] Church” and that the brothers had often related the legend to him. The legend of Botvid is the oldest Swedish legend. Apparently, it goes back to oral tradition from the twelfth century. A prototypical version of the Vita sancti Botvidi might have existed in the Diocese of Strängnäs already in 1129, when the saint’s wooden church was consecrated. This version might have been modified later, maybe in 1176 when the translation probably took place and the stone church in Botkyrka was consecrated (ÖNNERFORS 1966, 60).

Summary of contents

When Botvid was still young and a pagan, he went to England and was received by a priest, who taught him the Christian faith. Botvid was baptized by the priest, who praised the Lord for his guest. Having returned to Sweden, Botvid went out fishing one spring day together with his servants and neighbours. When they were about to set nets close to an island, the landowner surprised them asking them to offer him a fourth of the haul. Botvid said to him: “Do not act like this, my brother, but give to others what God has given to you for nothing.” The landowner, whose name was Bovinus, answered: “Botvid, go away! You may give to anyone what is yours.” Botvid went away and all the fish followed him. The people who wanted to fulfil the request of Bovinus worked the whole night in vain. Botvid returned to his own island in the same lake and asked his servants to set nets there. Their two boats were crowded with fish. Botvid went up to the top of a mountain and said: “Come here, my brothers, to see the miracle that God has done to us!” The people who came rushing said to him: “Oh, dear Botvid, we would like to give you a fourth of our haul, if we can get any fish in our nets. We have not got anything where we have been, even though we have worked the whole night”. Botvid answered: “My dear friends! If God wants to give me something good, I will give it to you for nothing”. Then they pulled up their nets and the boats were crowded. Somewhat later Bovinus’s boats were also filled with fish, after he had converted to God by following the exhortation of Botvid.

Botvid had redeemed a man of Slav origin from captivity and he wanted the man to return to his country and family in order to propagate the Christian religion. One of Botvid’s tenant farmers, Esbjörn (Esbernus), accompanied B and the freedman on a boat, which was heading for Gotland. While resting on an island called Rogö (Södermanland), the freedman took Botvid’s axe and killed both Botvid and Esbjörn in their sleep. Later, when Botvid’s brother Björn together with the family and a priest named Henrik were searching for Botvid, they were guided by a white bird sent by God. They found Esbjörn’s bones and Botvid’s intact body. A well of clear water was streaming on the place where Botvid’s blood had dripped from his wound down to the earth. Botvid was buried in the parochial church of Säby, where many miracles happened, and later his brother Björn built a wooden church at the family estate. Bishop Henrik of Uppsala and Bishop Gerder of Strängnäs celebrated the consecration of the wooden church in honour of Botvid. A well sprang up from the earth nearby the lake of Botvid’s property, where they put the relics. This happened in the year 1129. In 1176 a stone church was consecrated by Stephan, the first Archbishop of Uppsala, and by Bishop Wilhelm of Strängnäs.

Composition and style

The legend gives the impression of being very old. There is no Dominican influence, for instance, and no trace from the tradition related to Thomas Becket (SCHMID 1931, 109). The rhythmic cursus is present in 87 % of the clausulae, and the types used par préférence are the cursus trispondiacus and the cursus velox (ÖNNERFORS 1968, 40 n. 2). This analysis of the cursus is based on the version of the Breviarium Toresundense, but it is surely valid also for the complete Latin text in the “Codex Laurentii Odonis,” since the differences between the two versions are very small. The first lines of the legend, which are related here, explain the background and purpose of the text:

Omnibus legentibus et audientibus gratia Dei et pax multipliciter! Beati Botvidi memoria, ne oblivioni tradatur sed omnibus in noticiam deveniat, humili stilo, non grandiloquo sermone, rogatu Fratrum, qui eiusdem sancti ecclesie deserviunt, isti scedule imprimere volui ea, que michi a Fratribus sepissime fideliter relata sunt, fideli ac veraci narracione. (SRS II:1, 377-78, the orthography is slightly modified).

(May God’s grace and peace manifold be with all those who read and hear this! To ensure that the memory of saint Botvid shall not pass into oblivion, but come to everyone’s attention, at the request of the brothers who serve at the church of this saint, I wanted to imprint on this sheet in a humble manner of writing, not in a lofty style, that which was most faithfully related to me by the brothers, in a faithful and truthful narrative.)

Medieval reception and transmission

The legend of Botvid is transmitted in the most complete form in the “Codex Laurentii Odonis,” Dresden, Sächsische Landesbibliothek, MS A 182, originating from the last decades of the fourteenth century.


Two offices in honour of Botvid have been transmitted to posterity. The oldest one, which is fragmentary preserved and by anonymous author, was probably composed around 1200 even though the legend in the lessons might originate from an earlier period. In the middle of the fourteenth century the Canon of Strängnäs and later Archbishop of Uppsala, Birgerus Gregorii, composed a new rhymed office for the feast of Botvid, containing a very abridged legend. The office by Birgerus Gregorii was the version generally used until the end of the Middle Ages. For this office Birgerus Gregorii. The oldest office is treated below.


Unfortunately, the beginning of the office has not been transmitted in the fragments. The antiphon of the first nocturne begins: [in ser?]mone uerax, in iudicio iustus.


hoc singulari remedio ab omnium nostrorum contagione peccatorum nos purifices et a periculorum munias incursione cunctorum. Per -.


Around 16 pages altogether. The poetic parts alone (i.e. the parts of them that have survived), consist of 111 lines.


• ÖNNERFORS, A. 1969: “Das Botvidsoffizium des Toresundbreviers,” Eranos 67. Selected poetic parts:

  • ÖNNERFORS, A. 1966: Zur Offiziendichtung im schwedischen Mittelalter. Mit einer Edition des Birger Gregersson zugeschriebene “Officium s. Botuidi”, in Mittellateinisches Jahrbuch vol. 3, 62; also printed in: Lateinische Sprache und Literatur des Mittelalters, vol. 6 (Mediaevalia. Abhandlungen und Aufsätze), Frankfurt am Main 1977, 230-31.

Date and place

The two offices transmitted in the Breviarium Toresundense, i.e. the offices for the feasts of St. Sigfrid and St. Botvid respectively, are the oldest preserved offices from the Swedish Middle Ages. They might have been composed by the same anonymous author and both offices can on stylistic grounds be dated to ca. 1200 (MOBERG 1947, 293).

Summary of contents

As has been mentioned above, the office is only fragmentarily transmitted. The lost parts belong especially to the beginning and to the middle part (ÖNNERFORS 1969, 145). The office, as we have it, consists of 13 antiphons, 9 responsories, 9 lessons, 1 sequence, and a few psalms and prayers. The Latin text of the lessons of the Breviarium Toresundense differs only slightly from the complete version of the legend, transmitted in the “Codex Laurentii Odonis”. In the antiphons and responsories, the main themes are the saint’s extraordinary personal qualities and Botvid’s mission to convert the Swedes to the Christian religion.

Composition and style

It has already been remarked that the cursus is used in the clausulae of the legend, i.e. in the lessons of the office. Where the poetic parts are concerned, the style is simple and rather unsophisticated. The antiphons and responsories are sometimes like prose, flavoured with assonance and rhymes (cf. MOBERG 1947, 293). Only occasionally a metric pattern can be observed, as is shown in the two introductory stanzas of the sequence:

Almi patris merita

laude promat inclita

fidelis ecclesia.

Sit pax grata seculo

frequentata sedulo

Botuidi memoria!

Ortus regno Swecie

fines adit Anglie

renascendi gracia.

Sacre matris gracie

tyro stat in acie

spei spectans premia.

(ÖNNERFORS 1969, 164)

The 6-line stanzas, rhyming aabccb, are based on catalectic trochaic dimeter or the second hemistich of the trochaic septenarius (rhythmical, 7 pp; NORBERG 1958, 117).

Medieval reception and transmission

The cult of Botvid was very vivid already shortly after his death, especially in the eastern part of the province of Södermanland, i.e. in the region around the parochial church of Botkyrka. This is where the translation of the relics is supposed to have taken place in 1176, when the new stone church was consecrated. The cult spread rapidly to other parts of Sweden. In the Liber ecclesie Valentunensis (“The Vallentuna Calendar”) from 1198, the feast of Botvid on 28 July is marked out. Botvid was celebrated as a martyr in the liturgy and his traditional attributes, as manifested on sculptures and paintings, are the axe and the fish (see further TROTZIG 1987, 61 f.). In 1292 Bishop Lars of Linköping received a relic of Botvid from Bishop Isar of Strängnäs (DS no. 1061). St. Botvid’s prebend at the Cathedral of Strängnäs is known from 1331 (DS no. 2889) and in 1471 a chapel in honour of Botvid was consecrated in the Cathedral of Uppsala. In ca. 1340 Botvid appeared in one of St. Birgitta’s revelations (Extravagantes 72; cf. MORRIS 1999, 26), where he explains to Birgitta that he and the other saints have provided her God’s grace to hear, see and feel spiritual things. Botvid was especially venerated within the Birgittine Order.

The oldest office and legend of Botvid is found in the so-called Breviarium Toresundense. This breviary, which originally belonged to the parochial church of Toresund, Södermanland, is transmitted in fragments (Stockholm, National Archives, signum Br mi 1 in the Catalogue of Mutilated Manuscripts [CCM]) originating from the second half of the thirteenth century (see MOBERG 1947, 123; NILSSON 2005, 193). Besides the office for the feast of Botvid (National Archives, Kammararkivet, Södermanlands landskapshandlingar 1597:3, 1597:14, 1598:8), the fragments also contain the office for the feast of St. Sigfrid.


  • AS, Julii tomus VI, Paris and Rome 1868, 635-38 (including an edition of a post-medieval version of the legend by Joannes Vastovius from his Vitis Aquilonia on p. 637, see below).
  • BRILIOTH, Y. 1925: “Botvid,” in Svenskt biografiskt lexikon, vol. 5, Stockholm.
  • DS, vol. I-X, ed. J. G. Liljegren, B. E. Hildebrand et al., Stockholm 1829-.
  • HELMFRID, S. et al. 1998: Vallentuna Anno Domini 1198. Vallentunakalendariet och dess tid, Vallentuna kulturnämnd (with a facsimile of the Liber ecclesie Valentunensis).
  • KUMLIEN, K. 1962: “Sveriges kristnande i slutskedet – spörsmål om vittnesbörd och verklighet,” HistTS 1962:3, 249-97.
  • LUNDÉN, T. 1983: Sveriges missionärer, helgon och kyrkogrundare. En bok om Sveriges kristnande, Malmö.
  • • MOBERG, C.-A. 1947: Die liturgischen Hymnen in Schweden I, Uppsala.
  • MORRIS, B. 1999: St Birgitta of Sweden, Woodbridge.
  • NILSSON, A.-M. 2005: “Saints’ offices in the fragments,” in Medieval Book Fragments in Sweden. An international seminar in Stockholm 13-16 November 2003, ed. J. Brunius (Kungl. Vitterhets Historie och Antikvitets Akademien. Konferenser 58), Stockholm.
  • NORBERG, D. 1958: Introduction à l’étude de la versification latine médiévale (Studia Latina Stockholmiensia 5), Stockholm.
  • ODENIUS, O. 1957: “Botvid,” in KLNM 2, Malmö.
  • SCHMID, T. 1931: “Eskil, Botvid och David. Tre svenska helgon,” Scandia 1931, 102-14.
  • • TROTZIG, A. 1987: “Den helige Botvid i medeltida bildframställning. En ikonografisk studie,” Kyrkohistorisk årsskrift 1987, 55-80.
  • Vitis aquilonia, Joannis Vastovii Gothi Vitis Aquilonia sive Vitae sanctorum regni Sveo-gothici, emendavit et notis illustravit Ericus Benzelius filius, Upsaliae 1708, 57-59 (abridged and post-medieval version of the legend).
  • • ÖNNERFORS, A. 1966: Zur Offiziendichtung im schwedischen Mittelalter. Mit einer Edition des Birger Gregersson zugeschriebene “Officium s. Botuidi”, in Mittellateinisches Jahrbuch, vol. 3), also printed in: Lateinische Sprache und Literatur des Mittelalters, vol. 6, Mediaevalia. Abhandlungen und Aufsätze, Frankfurt am Main 1977.
  • ÖNNERFORS, A. 1968: Die Hauptfassungen des Sigfridoffiziums. Mit kritischen Editionen, Lund.