February 15 – Onesimus of the Seventy; Sigfrid of Sweden

Icon of the martyrdom of Onesimus, Russian, 10th centuryOnesimus of the Seventy (d. ca. 109) is proof that even a slave, if he eats all his vegetables and washes behind his ears, can grow up to be a bishop. Onesimus, the subject of St. Paul’s Epistle to Philemon, was Philemon’s slave, and had run away to Rome after stealing something from him. There he somehow bumped into Paul, learned about the Christian faith from the great apostle, and was baptized. Somewhere in there Paul let fall that he knew Philemon, and he allowed that he should probably try to reconcile the two men, proposing to send Onesimus back to Philemon with a letter. We can picture Onesimus waving his hands and saying, “I can cook. I can clean for you. I can run errands. . . . ”

Nevertheless Paul did write to Philemon (as witnessed by the aforementioned book in the New Testament), imploring him to forgive Onesimus and welcome him as a brother. Hint, hint. Philemon got the letter, took the hint, and gave Onesimus his freedom, sending him back to Paul. After Paul died, Onesimus become bishop of Gaza, Byzantium, and/or Ephesus. One source says he traveled around the Mediterranean preaching the Gospel, which is unusual for a bishop, but okay. Sometime after he became eligible for the senior citizen discount, he was arrested and tried and sentenced and executed, either by stoning, or beating, or beheading, or some combination of the above. (Sources. You can’t live with ’em, you can’t live without ’em.) After his death an “illustrious” (but unnamed) woman buried him in a silver casket. No word on where his relics might be.

Ceiling fresco of Sigfrid of Sweden, from the Overselo Church of Selaon, Sweden; 15th centurySigfrid of Växjö, the Apostle of Sweden (d. 1045) was born in Glastonbury (despite what some Germans might say; they’re just jealous), and sent to Norway by Æthelred the Unready (not to be confused with Eveready the Unread, illiterate inventor of the “D” cell). Somehow the archbishop of Bremen is involved (hence the German claim), but the sources are downright murky on this point. (Silence in this case is not so much golden as annoying.)

Oh, before we go on, let me relate that according to experts, “very little can safely be said about him.” Ha! What’s safety to a hagiographer? On we go!

Anyway, after converting lots of Norwegians, Sigfrid moved to Sweden, which had sadly lapsed back into paganism after St. Ansgar’s heroic effort in the ninth century. He built a wooden church in Växjö (about 110 km east of Kalmar on route 25), and used it as a base for his missionary jaunts around the area. King (St.) Olaf (Jul 29) heard about the rich fabrics and fancy vessels Sigfrid had schlepped with him from England, and came to see what it was all about. When he saw the exemplary lives Sigfrid & Co. were living, he was baptized in Sigfrid’s Spring, which wasn’t called that until later.

Sigfrid’s constant companions were his nephews, Unaman, Sunaman, and Winaman. (His sister clearly bought the baby name book from the wrong end of the shelf.) Sadly, when Sigfrid was on a missionary trip to Denmark (and boy could they use it), a band of bad guys came in and killed the nephews, placed their heads in a box, and threw it into a lake. Upon his return Sigfrid found the box, and with a little ventriloquism convinced the onlookers that his dead nephews were prophesying the avenging of their murders. The heads were placed in a shrine, and the murderers were placed in jail. The king wanted to execute them, but Sigfrid forbade it. The king then proposed a heavy fine to be paid into the coffers of Sigfrid’s church, but again Sigfrid turned it down. This apparently awed the neighbors even more than the ventriloquism, because we are told that from that point on, nobody messed with Sigfrid. He died an old man, and rests beneath the high altar at in the Växjö cathedral. Needless to say, his relics are associated with many miracles. Needless to say, our sources don’t relate any.