Unlocking the secrets to Sweden’s Holy King

Casket of King Erik iX in Uppsala Cathedral.

Researchers in Sweden have opened the casket of King Erik IX, and hope to analyze his bones to understand more about the health of the twelfth-century ruler and to even make sure these remains are his.

Casket of King Erik iX in Uppsala Cathedral.

King Erik IX ruled Sweden from 1155 to 1160 and was murdered, allegedly by an assassin working for a rival noble family or for a Danish claimant to his throne. Within a few years his remains were being revered as holy relics, and Uppsala Cathedral was built on the site where he was killed. By the 14th century he became the symbol of the church of Sweden and by the end of the Middle Ages he was considered the patron saint of both Stockholm and the country.

A team of historians, biologists and medical experts from Uppsala University will be testing the bones with x-ray, osteoporosis measurements and DNA analysis. For example, Sabine Sten be measuring his bone density to see if there are signs of osteoporosis. This fits in with a research project she is currently undertaking where she is looking at 450 skeletons from the late Viking Age to the Middle Ages to see if they have any bone brittleness.

“Human bones from times gone by are slightly different from modern bone,” said Professor Sten. “For the most part it’s a question of strong bone and fine medical measurement values. On the other hand, it was common with joint wear. It is noticeable that they used their bodies and moved more in the past.”

Meanwhile, King Erik’s crown was also removed from the casket, and will be going on display at Uppsala Cathedral from June 18 to November 16. It is part of Uppsala’s 850th anniversary as the archbishopric and the Swedish Church’s efforts to make accessible cultural heritage.

Uppsala Cathedral Chaplain Lars Åstrand told “The crown is unique – there’s nothing as old as this of its kind in Sweden. It’s certainly the oldest medieval royal crown in the country.”

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