Monday, July 23, 2012

St Bridget of Sweden

Various images of St Bridget
Born on June 14, 1303 of a very devout family, Bridget’s mother died when she was only 10. She was raised with her siblings by her father and other aunts. As was customary during the Middle Ages, Birgitta was married when she was 13 years old to a young man, Ulf Gudmarsson with whom she had eight children, four daughters and four sons, all of them survived infancy, and that was very rare at that time.
The King of Sweden, Magnus Eriksson married a foreigner, and asked Birgitta to come and be Lady-in Waiting and to teach his new bride and young queen the language and customs of her new country. After her years of service at Court, Birgitta and Ulf made the long pilgrimage to Santiago di Compostela in Spain. On the return journey Ulf became ill but survived until early in the year 1344, when he was very ill again, and so Birgitta took him to the monks at Alvastra where he died and was buried. Birgitta remained in a little house near the abbey and she spent long hours in prayer by Ulf’s grave. She arranged her affairs among her children and various charities and prayed for guidance.

St Bridget handing the Rule of her order, the Brigittines
When she was 41 years old, in the abbey at Alvastra she felt God calling her to start a religious order, mainly for women. He said that the other orders had fallen into decay and this new order would be a vineyard whose wine would revivify the Church. She needed a monastery, chaplains and priests, besides 60 nuns to start the order. King Magnus donated a little palace and much land to the new monastery in Vadstena, but as soon she had begun altering the palace and organizing the work, Christ appeared to her and asked her to go to Rome. Birgitta left Sweden at the end of 1349 never to return, spending the Holy Year 1350 there.
Although she had longed to become a nun, she never even saw the monastery in Vadstena. It was not until 1370 that Pope Urban V confirmed the rule of her order, but meanwhile Birgitta had made herself universally beloved in Rome by her kindness and good works. Save for occasional pilgrimages, including one to Jerusalem, she remained in Rome until her death on July 23, 1373. She was originally buried at San Lorenzo in Panisperna before being moved to Sweden. She was canonized by 1391. Birgitta was the first women ever to found a religious order, known as the Brigittines.
The order spread swiftly throughout Europe with monasteries from Scandinavia throughout Europe, in particular Spain, Italy, Mexico and the USA. None of these foundations have brothers (except U.S.A. which has one male convent.)

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