Emanuel Swedenborg

Fire in Stockholm

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Swedenborg made no effort to establish a religious sect or to induce people to form themselves into a church following. In fact, his efforts to remain anonymous with regard to his theological works lasted until 1759. In that year an incident occurred in Sweden which brought him considerable notoriety and which eventually led many to connect Swedenborg for the first time with his unusual theological works, particularly Heaven and Hell. In July, in the city of Gothenburg, approximately 300 miles from Stockholm, while he dined with friends at the home of William Castel, a wealthy local merchant, Swedenborg became pale and disturbed, withdrew for a time to the garden, and returned with news that a great fire had broken out in Stockholm not far from his home. He said that the fire was spreading rapidly and he feared that some of his manuscripts would be destroyed. Finally, at 8:00 p.m. he spoke with relief: "Thank God! The fire is extinguished the third door from my house!"

Persons present, disturbed by the incident since some had homes or friends in Stockholm, were impressed by Swedenborg's apparent clairvoyance. The same evening one of them told the story to the provincial governor and he, in turn, requested that Swedenborg render him a full account. The next day, Sunday, Swedenborg gave the governor details regarding the nature and extent of the fire and the means by which it had been extinguished. News of the alleged fire spread widely in the city of Gothenburg and the subject became the general topic of conversation.

Not until Monday evening did a messenger arrive, from the Stockholm Board of Trade, with details on the fire. Since they agreed with those Swedenborg had given, the general curiosity aroused made him a public figure, and not long afterwards his authorship of Heaven and Hell and the Arcana Coelestia became known. A variety of prominent persons, curious to meet with a man who claimed to be able to see into the spiritual world, began to write accounts of Swedenborg and his habits. Those who had not yet had an opportunity to meet him tended to conclude that Swedenborg had become insane. After meeting and talking with him they found him, on the contrary, to be quite reasonable. They frequently ended in a quandary, not willing to accept his sweeping claims, yet convinced of his sanity.

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- by Sig Synnestvedt

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