This is the Church of Sweden

A glimpse of its history during the past 1000 years.

The first to preach the Christian gospel in Sweden was Anskar, a French Benedictine monk, who came to Birka, not far from what is nowadays the capital, Stockholm, in AD 829. More missionaries came to Sweden, many of them from England. Their names are still alive in the Swedish tradition, among them Sigfrid, Eskil and Botvid. Despite their labours, it took a long time for Sweden to be Christianised. King Olof Skötkonung was baptised by Sigfrid circa 1000 AD.

During the first centuries after Christianity came to Sweden many churches were built. In the beginning these were simple wooden churches. Later churches were built of stone, which was brought to Sweden from further south. At this time the church was part of the Western (Catholic) Church.

Birgitta (Bridget) of Vadstena was the daughter of a provincial governor and senior court official in Uppsala. A mystic and Church reformer, she founded the Order of Our Most Holy Saviour which was approved by the Pope in 1370. Birgitta was canonised in 1391.

Gustav Vasa became King of Sweden in the 16th century. He received ‘ideological’ support for his break with the Pope and for the creation of a national Swedish church from two brothers Olavus and Laurentius Petri (Olav and Lars Persson), who had been inspired by Martin Luther and other church reformers on the continent. In Gustav Vasa’s reign Sweden was proclaimed a protestant kingdom.

The 17th century is known as “the era of great bishops” because of the enormous influence of the episcopate on both Church and state. One of the consequences of this influence was that in 1726 the Conventicle Edict was issued. This prohibited worship in private groups.

During this time, contacts were made between the Church of Sweden and the Church of England as well as other Churches in mainland Europe.

During the 18th and 19th centuries there were several evangelical revival movements.  Some groups left the Church of Sweden and formed “free congregations”.

In 1951 full religious freedom was guaranteed by law. Today everyone has the right to belong (or not) to any religious body. In the year 2000 the Swedish Church formally separated from the state and is now, legally, a faith community alongside many others.

This article is distilled from a presentation by Växjö visitors to the Christ Church Oxford Open Day in September 2007.