Margareta, often known as Margareta lappkvinna (the Lappish woman), was a missionary in Lappland around the turn of the fifteenth century.
Few surviving sources from the 1400s deal with women in northern Scandinavia. However, sources mentioning a woman named Margareta, who enthusiastically championed the Christian faith in Lappland, do exist. Margareta is said to have, during the period of 1388–1414, visited many priests and even to have met Margareta, queen of the Kalmar union. Thus Margareta left traces of her activities spanning at least a quarter of a century, leading us to believe that she was born at the latest during the 1370s.
It is difficult to draw any conclusions regarding Margareta’s ethnic origins or her nationality: she is referred to as a ‘Lappish woman’ and may thus have belonged to the group of people now known as the Sami. Her birthplace is believed to have lain in Tornedalen. According to the sources Margareta was unschooled but her own Christian belief gave rise to disquiet about the fact that many in Lappland still adhered to shamanism.
Margareta undertook lengthy journeys from Lappland to various religious centres in Scandinavia, such as Uppsala, Strängnäs, and Vadstena in Sweden, as well as Malmö (which at that time was part of Denmark) and Munkaliv close to Bergen in Norway. At each destination Margareta expressed her worries about the state of spiritual beliefs in Lappland to local aristocrats, prelates, and even to her namesake Margareta, the aforementioned queen of the Kalmar union, who ruled over all of Scandinavia towards the late fourteenth century.
Margareta has become known to posterity through the letters written by influential people, praising this “simple woman” for making these dangerous journeys from Lappland in quest of an increase in the number of preachers being sent to the northern outreaches of both Uppsala and Åbo dioceses. Margareta’s missionary efforts proved to be of significant importance to these most northerly parts of modern day Sweden and Finland.
The Uppsala prelates recounted how Margareta had recieved visions and heavenly apparitions in a similar manner to heliga Birgitta (St Bridget). Margareta thus came to be compared to other mystics whose experiences and views were treated with reverence given that their visions were believed to have emanated directly from God. However, the Uppsala prelates wanted to undertake a more detailed investigation in order to cast final judgement on Margareta’s visions.
As a result of Margareta’s prayers Queen Margareta and the archbishop of Lund issued an open letter about the Christianising of the people of Lappland. In this letter, written in Malmö on 6 August 1389, the queen and the archbishop reveal how Margareta requested their help. The letter encourages the people of Lappland to accept Christianity as the sole means to salvation. The queen and the archbishop of Lund also encouraged the archbishop of Uppsala as well as the lord of Korsholm castle in Österbotten, Filpus Karlsson, to expand the missionary effort in the northern parts of the kingdom.
Margareta's efforts occurred during a time when the administrative spheres of both the sacred and profane worlds, as well as decision-making, tended to lie in the hands of men. Nevertheless, women were able, through God-given visions and religious fervour, to find a space which gave them agency. The priests’ descriptions of Margareta being an example of the miracle that God could work through “the weaker sex” represented a view that was typical of the era. Filippus, a Franciscan, compared Margareta to St Bridget, whose order had newly established a convent at Vadstena and who had only been declared a saint in 1391.
Margareta’s visions and prayers were not only of religious importance. The ruling powers doubtless also realised that these missionary efforts could strengthen the Crown’s influence in Lappland. Despite this, it remains difficult to determine just how much influence Margareta or her benefactors actually had on the people of Lappland. Margareta was, nevertheless, an example of how an individual of humble origins could exercise influence through her religious convictions.