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The Catholic Defender: Saint Ansgar "Apostle Of The North"


Patron Saint of Scandinavia, Denmark, Sweden, and various locations in Germany

Declared a saint by Pope Nicolas I c. 865

Liturgical Color: White

Ansgar was the son of a noble Frankish family, born near Amiens (present day France)

when the little boy learned in a vision that his mother was in the company of Mary, mother of Jesus, his careless attitude toward spiritual matters changed to seriousness.

According to Rimbert, his early studies and ensuing devotion to the ascetic life of a monk were inspired by a vision of his mother in the presence of Mary, mother of Jesus.

one night he had the first of many visions that would set the course of his future. He saw the Blessed Mother coming to him with many other women behind her. Among the others was his own mother. The Blessed Mother asked him if he wanted to come to his mother and be with her, to which he responded that he did. At that, the Blessed Mother said to him, “If you desire to share our companionship, you must flee from every kind of vanity, and put away childish jests and have regard to the seriousness of life; for we hate everything that is vain and unprofitable, nor can anyone be with us who has delight in such things.”

Though, his friends assured him that his life was one continuous martyrdom as a result of the hardships he endured for the faith. St. Ansgar is now considered the patron saint of Scandinavia.

When Ansgar became a teenager, he began to slip in his devotion. He then had another vision that caused him to be both “terrified and comforted.” He experienced death, followed by what seemed to be 1,000 painful years in Purgatory, and then, once purified, entered into the celestial glories of Heaven. In Heaven he saw the angels and saints and, in the center, the Son of God Whom he adored. Jesus spoke to him in the most distinct voice that filled the whole world saying, “Go and return to Me crowned with martyrdom.”

In 822 Ansgar became one of many missionaries sent to found the abbey of Corvey

The “apostle of the north” (Scandinavia) had enough frustrations to become a saint—and he did. He became a Benedictine at Corbie, France, where he had been educated. Three years later, when the king of Denmark became a convert, Ansgar went to that country for three years of missionary work, without noticeable success.

Sweden asked for Christian missionaries, and he went there, suffering capture by pirates and other hardships on the way. Fewer than two years later, he was recalled, to become abbot of New Corbie (Corvey) and bishop of Hamburg. The pope made him legate for the Scandinavian missions.

n 829, after returning to Germany for a couple of years, Ansgar was sent even farther north into Sweden to preach and win over converts to the faith.

In 831 Ansgar returned to Louis' court at Worms and was appointed to the Archbishopric of Hamburg-Bremen.

He devotedly reached out to the poor, lived a holy life according to his monastic rule, mortified his flesh, and regularly fasted on bread and water. Because he longed for the crown of martyrdom, he offered himself sacrificially to God and to unwavering evangelization.

Funds for the northern apostolate stopped with Emperor Louis’s death. After 13 years’ work in Hamburg, Ansgar saw it burned to the ground by invading Northmen; Sweden and Denmark returned to paganism.

He directed new apostolic activities in the North, traveling to Denmark and being instrumental in the conversion of another king. By the strange device of casting lots, the king of Sweden allowed the Christian missionaries to return.

The first actual missionary in Sweden and the Nordic countries (and organizer of the Catholic church therein), Ansgar was later declared "Patron of Scandinavia".

Ansgar’s biographers remark that he was an extraordinary preacher, a humble and ascetical priest. He was devoted to the poor and the sick, imitating the Lord in washing their feet and waiting on them at table. He died peacefully at Bremen, Germany, without achieving his wish to be a martyr.

Ansgar succeeded in thwarting a pagan rebellion before returning to Bremen. He was proclaimed a saint by his successor, Rembert, and Pope Nicholas I the Great approved the proclamation.

Ansgar's biographers remark that he was an extraordinary preacher, a humble and ascetical priest. He was devoted to the poor and the sick, imitating the Lord in washing their feet and waiting on them at table. He died peacefully at Bremen, Germany, without achieving his wish to be a martyr.

He accompanied King Harold to Denmark when the exiled King returned to his native land and engaged in missionary work there. Ansgar's success caused King Bjorn of Sweden to invite him to that country, and he built the first Christian Church in Sweden.

Ansgar was buried in Bremen in 865. His successor as archbishop, Rimbert, wrote the Vita Ansgarii. He noted that Ansgar wore a rough hair shirt, lived on bread and water, and showed great charity to the poor.

Ansgar was convinced he was commanded by heaven to undertake this mission and was influenced by a vision he received when he was concerned about the journey, in which he met a man who reassured him of his purpose and informed him of a prophet that he would meet, the abbotAdalhard, who would instruct him in what was to happen. In the vision, he searched for and found Adalhard, who commanded, "Islands, listen to me, pay attention, remotest peoples", which Ansgar interpreted as God's will that he go to the Scandinavian countries as "most of that country consisted of islands, and also, when 'I will make you the light of the nations so that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth' was added, since the end of the world in the north was in Swedish territory"

In the thirty-fourth year of his episcopacy, at the age of 64, Bishop Ansgar endured months of intense suffering from an intestinal infection. Throughout that illness, he often quoted Job who said, “We accept good things from God; should we not accept evil?” (Job 2:10). Before his death, he made arrangements for the proper administration of his diocese and missions. When all was prepared and he was on his deathbed, he prayed until his last breath, quoting various Scriptures, including, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13), and “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46).

Sweden became pagan again after his death, and remained so until the coming of missionaries two centuries later. St. Ansgar shares the celebration of his liturgical feast with St. Blase on February 3.

Most noble father, Anskar, restore us by thy grace, and those who wander now afar, in Christ’s own bosom place. In holy strife contending, thou did’st the faith proclaim, to Danes and Swedes declaring, the honour of His name. An unbelieving nation, from thee the light receives, the teachings of salvation, it now with joy believes. ~Swedish hymn

Saint Ansgar, you heard God calling you and responded to that call with great fervor and courage. Through your labors, God brought about the conversion of many to the faith. Please pray for me, that I may imitate your fervor by laying my life down sacrificially for others. May I, like you, become a true martyr in spirit, carrying my cross to the very end. Saint Ansgar, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You.


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