Helena Sophia Ekblom was an ecstatic preacher who was active in Östergötland in the early nineteenth century. She was known as Predikare-Lena or Vita Jungfrun (“the White Virgin”) as she always wore white when she was preaching.
Helena Ekblom was born in 1790 in the Sankt Anna parish in Östergötland. In 1806 she lost her mother and her younger sister. Her father had already died two years earlier and her only surviving brother worked far away from home. These were her personal circumstances when she suffered a stroke which paralysed the left side of her body and left her permanently disabled. Her speech was also impaired. She became seriously spiritual and began to have visions. That same year, namely 1806, she began to preach.
Her sermons were based on her apocalyptically-inspired visions of the bliss of those who had been saved and the anguish of those who were lost. Her gatherings attracted a lot of people and were viewed as disturbances, which the authorities initially treated leniently. Around this time Helena Ekblom began to wander, always clad in white. She refused to preach if her clothes were not immaculate. In 1807 she was imprisoned and taken to Linköping. The court preacher at the castle made no headway with her. At the governor’s suggestion she was sent to Vadstena hospital, where she was to be detained and put into “useful service and gentle treatment”. She escaped from the hospital during her first night and continued her wandering and preaching to an ever-expanding audience. She even gained the attention of members of higher society. At the same time she attracted vicious enemies and, on one occasion, was so badly beaten that she was on the brink of death. She was led away to Kalmar as a prisoner, but was almost immediately released. In August 1808 she was returned to Vadstena where she suffered harsh treatment, including being shackled in irons. Whilst imprisoned she composed Den andliga striden, an autobiography which included spiritual anecdotes and descriptions of five revelations. The latter largely concerned the bliss of heaven and those who had been saved, the anguish of those who were lost and their torment, the final judgement day, and the Lord’s vengeance on the godless. These revelations were written in a calm, less frenetic style.
In 1810 the king commanded that Helena Ekblom be released from her iron shackles. She received a complete pardon in 1828 and went on to deliver several sermons, always clad in white. She bore the marks of maltreatment but also subjected herself to physical hardships, such as sleeping on the bare floor. In 1846 Svinhult parish awarded her an annual maintenance sum, although in 1853 she was taken in at the parish poorhouse.
Helena Ekblom is often described as someone who suffered from “predikosjukan” (preacher’s illness). A movement grew around her which presaged the later so-called Roparrörelsen (“the exclamation movement”). She treated her visions and dreams as though they were heaven-sent revelations and believed that she had a particular divine calling to contribute to the expansion of God’s earthly kingdom.
Posterity has come to treat Helen Ekblom as both a Christian martyr and as a political threat. She is also believed to have been the role model for C.J.L. Almqvist’s Amorina, 1822.
Helena Ekblom’s state of confusion worsened with age and she eventually froze to death in a snowdrift in Svinhult in 1859.