Sweden: Scandalous cultural obliteration of Catholic sacred land


Appalling ignorance among politicians upsets the people

of  Ulf Silfverling

(katobs.se) In Sweden, the Lutheran former state Church has dominated the religious scene for almost 500 years. Still it is the richest church in real estate, being the largest private forest owner in the country. Most of the land, as well as churches and monastries, were expropriated from the Catholic Church and monastic orders during the so called Reformation in late 16th and 17th century. It was land given for prayers and indulgence.

However, many medieval churches have been preserved, as well as the surroundings of often great cultural and historical values. The churches were often placed at already sacred places, near graves from generations back in the so called Vendel Period (550-790).

One of these churches is S. Botvid´s church, some twenty minutes south of Stockholm City. This church has a story that is awesome. The church was finished in 1129, when relics from a son of the region, Botvid, were transferred from St Albans church some 15 km from Botkyrka.

Saint Botvid - legend and facts

Botvid was born at Hammarby farm, just in the time when the Vikings became Christian. The hill and the name of the farm is still there. He probably died in 1080, already with a saintly reputation. When young, he decided to go to England to educate himself to help the family. There he lived with a priest who taught him about Christian faith. He was baptized, and after only some year he came back to his father’s house, teaching all about his new faith. There were many conversions and also miracles, detailed stories were spread among the people, names and all.

At the farm they had slaves. One was not comfortable in Sweden, he came from east, maybe from some Slavonian people. So Botvid decided to give him back to his people, at one condition: He should teach them about the Christian faith. Botvid would follow him to the coast and  all the way to Gotland island in the middle of the Baltic Sea. He promised to see so that another ship would take the slave all the way across the Baltic Sea to his home.

However, both Botvid and the slave disappeared, also the captain of the ship. They never reached the meeting point. The brother to Botvid, Björn, gave a promise to Our Lord, that if his body were found, he should build a church for him. Some weeks later relatives found Botvid and the captain, beheaded, on an island in the archipelago, Rågö. It turned out that the slave had killed both in their sleep to rob them, and escaped with the small ship.

They transferred the body to St Alban´s church (today Salem), and the project to build S. Botvid´s  church started. There was pilgrimage from even abroad, and the tiny church of St Alban became soon too small.  

When the relics were transferred in procession to the new church, Botvid  was already considered a saint. After 2 km the men became tired in carrying the shrine, so they stopped. At once a well opened up under the shrine, and crisp clear water sprung from the very soil. Also at the small island, were the body were found, they have found a spring, and a cross of the kind pilgrims used to raise in early medieval era.

Ever since, the S. Botvid church have been known for this. And the spring is still delivering some 100 liters per minute, all year around. It is cold and has a taste of iron.

Landscape, history, and tradition - sacrificed for job opportunities and business

Now, the municipality politicians have plans to build an industrial center, residential area and galleria, just in front of the sacred land of the church. They have already started to place hundred thousands tons of landfill, quarried stones, this just some 100 meters from the 12th century church and behind that,  Vendel graves, which actually is where the ancestors to S. Botvid are buried.

Also the Swedish government is involved, they want to place SIDA, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, with 400 employed, almost right on top of the grave fields.

This was observed by a journalist at Public Service radio. A man who was brought up by the very same farm, Hammarby, as S. Botvid, was interviewed, as also the beadle of the church. Both were very upset: ”This is our history, it belongs to us. It is holy land!”

When confronting the leading politicians, those behind the plans and decisions showed a total ignorance and disinterest of the history of S. Botvid, as well as the church. This despite that the whole Municipality is named after the saint and the church, and also have his image in the coat-of-arm, with a fish and an axe, parts of his story. But they had not the slightest idea what it was about.  Furthermore it turned out that the land next to the 12th century church is assigned to the municipality for residencial area by  - the Swedish Lutheran church, namely the Diocese of Stockholm, against the will of the parish. In fact, the whole idea of creating a residencial area on this land came from - not the secular authorities, but the Lutheran Swedish church. The land belongs to a foundation for funding priest salaries. In the Lutheran Diocese of Stockholm there are some 55 priests. The adminstrative office of the Diocese has 75 employed.

Also the County Adminstrative Board, ("Länsstyrelsen") as well as the County Museum, have expressed their concern for the cultural and environmental consequences of the project. (It the last round however, in 2018, the County Administration Board gived an approval, suddenly ommitting every cultural and historical aspect.)

In this case, it is evident that no one of those politicians or the project managers, have ever visited the church. Because there is clear information on the unique history of the church well shown right in entrance to the church.

This story shows how ignorance about history as well as disrespect for our Christian faith opens up for destruction of both buildings and landscape. This piece of land is a part of our history, that can explain very much about how our ancestors lived and what they thought and believed. There are not only grave yards here, but also thousand years’ old roads, bridges, fields and practically unchanged land.  It is about a unique peace of landscape were everything is connected in a history that goes back 1500 years, with not just people, but also named persons involved. It has a story in itself. This is now threatened for just shortsighted political and economic gains.

At the same time, the environmentalists can argue loudly for protection of small areas if there should be some red listed species there. The MP, the green party in Botkyrka, did  however not vote against this bold violation of cultural values.

Recently, the scandal has reached out to the public. And there is a minor storm appearing in opinion to the project. There is a fast growing FaceBook group and lists to sign against the plans. In this late hour, due to lack of information from the politicians, there is a request to inform about this sacrilege also at the international level.

FaceBook group (Swedish):
Botkyrka kyrka – hotat kulturarv

Decision makers: 
Swedish church:
Karin Lindforss: karin.lindforss@svenskakyrkan.se.

Political responsible, Botkyrka Municipality:
Gabriel Melki: gabriel.melki@botkyrka.se



S. Botvid was venerated  in many Swedish – also Finish - churches from medieval times. His story was well known by many, even the Patron of Europe, S. Bridget of Sweden. This is an al fresco painting from Överselö church, 15th century. Foto: Klaus Fuisting

Botkyrka church, one of the oldest stone churches in Sweden, built in the beginning of 12th century, only some yards from the birthplace of Saint Botvid, Hammarby.

Bildresultat för sankt botvid

Coat of arms for Botkyrka municipality south of Stockholm.

Tomb of the brother to S. Botvid, Björn, with inscriptions in latin, as well as runes. Foto: katobs.se

The well of S. Botvid, still delivering some 100 liters a minute of cristal clear, always cold water. Foto: katobs.se.


Area that should be protected by historical/cultural reasons according to the Botkyrka municipality.


Same area is partly planned to be exploited for shopping center and residencial area, according to the same municipality. “Will create some 160 new jobs”.

S Botvid church, two years ago, the open landscape welcoming the arrivals to Stockholm area by the highway from south. Behind is Hammarby farm, where the saint was born and brought up in around 1040. Foto: Stockholms Läns museum

And today. On top of these masses of quarried stones is a business area to be built. Just nearby is lake Bornsjön, a protected fresh water reserve for Stockholm area. Also were S. Botvid accomplished some miracles.  Foto: Salim Tarazi

Shopping  center with unknown future will block the view of bronze age grave fields, and one of the oldest churches in Sweden. Foto: katobs.se





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