Hedvig Strömfelt was one of the so-called Strömfelt sisters, all of whom were active in the Moravian church, one of the revival movements of the 1700s.
Hedvig Strömfelt was possibly born in 1723, the youngest daughter in a relatively exalted aristocratic family. Her mother, Anna Magdalena Taube af Odenkat, was a baroness and her father Otto Reinhold Strömfelt was an official and politically active, and ended his career as the president of the Swedish Court of Appeal. The Strömfelt family were all influenced by the Moravian church which was noticeable in various ways. Apart from the sisters’ activities, their father became famous for pleading for increasing the influence of ordinary people in the cathedral chapters. In the Strömfelt household, eminent Moravian churchmen were also given protection, for example Johan Kryger, who was employed as their tutor and the priest Tore Odhelius who was taken in as the house padre.
The Strömfelt household was considered important when the early Moravian church reached Sweden. According to the Swedish movement’s early historian Arvid Gradin, some members of the household, for example a couple of Hedvig Strömfelt’s older sisters found salvation when they visited Livland in 1738, where the Strömfelt family had estates. The movement had however its origins in Germany where it was founded in Saxony towards the end of the 1700s. It still exists in a number of countries though in a changed form. This missionary revival then spread relatively rapidly in Europe and its colonies during the 1700s. The Moravian church’s relatively egalitarian ideals made it easier for women and people from poorer backgrounds to come forward, which was otherwise problematical in the socially hierarchical Sweden of that day. It was besides only the teaching class, the priests, who were permitted to interpret and preach God’s word within the framework of the mandated Lutheran alignment: the orthodox Lutheran doctrine.
With her sisters Christina Catharina, Ottiliana and Ulrika Eleonora, Hedvig Strömfelt received the estate Kersö (Kärsö) in 1758 from their mother, just before she died. The estate is situated on the shore of Lake Mälaren and could both supply income and be a base for the sisters’ Moravian church activities. None of the sisters married and they seem to have spent their lives in spreading the Moravian church doctrine, with particular influence during the movement’s first formative years until the 1760s. One important factor was also that private services could be held in the Strömfelt home and at Kersö. That was of central importance, since religious meetings outside the Swedish church were forbidden except for aristocrats. In that way, the believers were able to assemble in the aristocratic household to practise their faith. There are testimonies that intimate that the sisters actually gave sermons, perhaps at these meetings. As aristocrats, the sisters also had the resources as well as a certain freedom to travel. Travelling facilitated more profound contacts with the Moravian church’s mother congregation in Germany, and Swedish members as well as foreign ones travelled to Kersö. Two letters written by Hedvig Strömfelt have been preserved in the archive Herrnhut (Unitätsarchiv der Evangelischer Brüder-Unität). They bear witness to knowledge of German, and also that the Strömfelt sisters knew eminent members of the movement. Their activities were clearly much appreciated by the mother congregation.
There is a great deal of literature that has been saved from the movement: the Moravin church members were great writers and singers who produced autobiographies, so-called life courses, songs, theological texts, letters, sermons and so on. The Strömfelt sisters were all active as the authors of letters and songs; there is besides a “narrative”, a history of the Moravian church’s early days written by Ulrika Eleonora Strömfelt. The contents in the literature are characterised by a strong emphasis of the Christian message of love, in which great emphasis was also laid on faith being awoken and kept alive by something called the empirical basis in feelings. Descriptions of Christ’s suffering should create a feeling of being present there and touch the heart, and through various literary descriptions of the blood and the cross, suffering would be communicated so that it could be experienced in the believer’s own body.
Another common picture, with roots in the Song of Songs, was also the intimate and sometimes sensual descriptions of Jesus as a bridegroom and the soul as his bride. In a number of the songs, there are also images of God’s motherliness. This meant that a common accusation against the movement by the established churches was that the song texts aroused feelings that were too strong and too wrong, and considered to lead especially the ordinary person astray.
Hedvig Strömfelt was in other words one of those writers whose texts were seen as suspicious right up until the ecclesiastical history of the 1900s. Her songs have been preserved in manuscript as well as in the Moravian church song book Sions Sånger, under the signature H.S. in the edition of 1743, reprinted and extended in 1748. She had probably also written one of the songs in Sions Nya Sånger, from 1778. Her printed songs were all characterised by the typical form and content of Moravian church songs at that time, that followed in the long tradition of among other things passion poetry and intimate church service literature in which the seeking “I” communicates with God. In Hedvig Strömfelt, there is also a strong emphasis on the Christian message of love, which forms the basis of faith, and Jesus’ suffering is described with graphic expressions to enable the soul to find its refuge in the saviour’s embrace. One example can be taken from one of her songs in Sions Sånger from 1743, song number 47: “Jesu, I cast myself down By your cross with blood all covered: I desire to find a place In your wound; for you have spilt your Blood for sinners, since you want to give them grace.” Another song communicates the poet’s/soul’s intimate love for Jesus: “O! JEsu, my most lovely, my most beloved on earth, Your love now has become my only delight. My heart, my JEsu’, through love you have drawn To yourself and from me completely taken away.”, from song number 59 in Sions Sånger. Bägge samlingarna from 1748. In Hedvig Strömfelt’s published songs, there is however hardly any hyperbole when it comes to intimate metaphors or images of blood and suffering, compared with others in these collections, or moreover some of the Swedish Church’s authorised passion hymns. If we turn however to her hand-written songs that have been preserved, we find a higher emotional temperature. The censorship of that time meant however that those who printed Moravian song collections had to be very careful.
According to information in contemporary sources, Hedvig Strömfelt’s health had been frail since her youth and she died at Kersö in 1766, at 43 years of age.