Posts Tagged ‘St. Bridget of Sweden’

Blessed may you be, my Lord Jesus Christ. By your precious blood and by your most sacred death, you redeemed souls and mercifully led them back from exile to eternal life.                                                                            Birgitta of Sweden

For the last several months we have been looking at Christian women mystics of the Middle Ages. We have covered twelfth century mystics such as Hildegard of Bingen and the Beguines (posts 7/26/16). Next we related the stories of many thirteenth century mystics such as St. Clare of Assisi, Hadewijch, and Angela of Foligno (posts 7/27/16 through 8/6/16). Then I posted reviews of the books that have more information about these amazing women (Review #17, posted 9/5/16). If you read these books you will be inspired, challenged, and blessed.

Now let us turn our attention to fourteenth century mystics. In this group are some of the most birgitta-of-swedenfamous women in church history – Birgitta (Bridget) of Sweden, Julian of Norwich, Catherine of Siena, Dorothea of Montau, and Margery Kempe.

I am looking forward to talking with these women when I get to Heaven. Birgitta especially is very intriguing to me. She led such a selfless life. She gave away most of her wealth. And I am truly amazed at her courage. Though she was obviously a humble woman, Birgitta did not shrink from confronting leaders, even the pope.

St. Birgitta (or St. Bridget) of Sweden is as famous in the Netherlands as Joan of Arc is in France. Birgitta (1303-1373) is remembered for her work among the poor and destitute. Her piety is renowned. We are blessed to have her story, much of which is in her own writings.

There has been a resurgence of interest in Birgitta’s writings and many books are now available for you to read. Her “Revelations” and “Prayers” are beautiful. Some are controversial for Protestants, since Birgitta prayed to the Virgin Mary. I think that we need to remember the time during which she lived and focus on her obvious love for the Savior. She proved her love by her many works of charity. She not only fed the poor, but she rescued many girls from a life of sin. The people of Rome gave Birgitta the title of “The Angel of Rome”.

I have already posted a story on Birgitta (July 15, 2011). I gave a summary of Birgitta’s life – her marriage to Ulf Gudmarsson, her eight children, her widowhood and subsequent travels, her work among the poor, and her founding of the religious order that is named after her and still in existence today.

The previous post also contains more about her efforts to convince Popes Clement VI, Urban V and Gregory XI to move from Avignon to Rome. The background for this was the decision of the popes to move their seat to Avignon, France in the early fourteenth century. Many called this “The Babylonian Captivity”. Most of the faithful believed that the right place for the papacy was in Rome, where the church had reportedly been founded by Saint Peter. But because of the influence of the powerful French kings, the popes had lived in Avignon since 1305.  Birgitta believed that the reform of the Church would begin with the return of the papacy to Rome. Eventually the papacy would return, but Birgitta did not live to see it.

saint-bridget-of-sweden-03In the first post I did not say much about Birgitta as a mystic. I did not tell of her visions or the miracles that she did. For example, I did not state that the reason she went to Rome was because she was following God’s direction to go there. In this post, I would like to say more about her mystical experiences and her writings.

St. Birgitta (or St. Bridget) was born in June of 1303 in Finsta, Sweden. She was the fifth child of aristocratic parents, Birger Persson, a knight and a governor, and Ingeborg Bengstdotter.  They were very devout Christians. Her parents were related to the king of Sweden and had influence at court. Birgitta spent six years as lady-in-waiting and advisor to King Magnus II and Queen Blanche of Sweden and Norway. This tie to the nobility would enable Birgitta to have the opportunity to stand in front of popes and kings, denouncing them for their worldliness and asking for reform.

Birgitta and Ulf Gudmarsson were happily married for twenty-eight years and had eight children. One of these children was Katherine – later St. Katherine of Sweden. Katherine would go on to continue Birgitta’s work in Sweden.

After Ulf died, around 1344, Birgitta experienced a vision as she was praying. In this vision a voice spoke to her from a bright cloud, “Woman, hear me; I am your God, who wishes to speak with you. Fear not, for I am the Creator of all, and not a deceiver. I do not speak to you for your sake, but for the sake of the salvation of others …. You shall be my bridge and my channel, and you shall hear and see spiritual things, and my Spirit shall remain with you even until your death.”

An Aside:

What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.                                                 (I Corinthians 14:26

One of the hardest things for Christians of the twenty-first century to accept is the idea of personal visions from God. I believe that during the Medieval era especially, women and men did receive dreams or visions from God. The Christian mystic believes that God gives a type of revelation today. These revelations are not at the same level as the Scriptures. They are merely a spiritual word from the Holy Spirit.

There are several tests for the genuineness of visions. How would Birgitta or any other of the mystics know that it was the Spirit instructing them and not Satan?

In the first place, the dream or vision is not placed on the same level as Scripture. It is a secondary revelation and must be tested by the Scriptures.

Secondly, though Birgitta may have had some access to the Scriptures as a wealthy woman, she probably did not have the ready access to the Scriptures that twenty-first century Christians have. When we have such ready access to the Word, visions are less necessary. Today, Muslims are receiving visions of Christ for the same reason. They don’t have the Bible and God is graciously appearing to them in order to bring them to Christ.

Lastly, Birgitta’s vision was not for herself. It was for others. God was calling her to be a witness for Christ and a channel for their salvation.

Back to Birgitta:

Birgitta had been experiencing visions since childhood, but after her husband’s death her revelations became more frequent. She was directed by God to speak to others. She traveled and spoke to kings and popes directly. She sent messages denouncing the evils of the day. She was a counselor and advisor to all who called on her. God also directed her to guide in a positive way, establishing the Order of the Most Holy Savior. Later the name of her monastic community would be changed to the Order of the Brigittines. King Magnus donated a former castle as a residence for the nuns.

Birgitta was given instructions for how to build and organize her convent in a vision. The convent would be primarily a place for education. It would be a double community with both priests and nuns. The convent would be governed by the Rule or Regula. Birgitta’s daughter Katherine became the first abbess.

In 1349, Birgitta received a vision from God telling her to go to Rome. Birgitta obeyed, and lived in Rome until her death. She left temporarily at age 70 to visit the Holy Land with a son and daughter. She died on the return trip in 1373.

Birgitta was led by God to put her visions and teaching into writing. As was the custom of her day, Birgitta had confessors (Prior Peter and Master Peter) who wrote her Vita (the story of her life). In it they recorded her biography, and her revelations and prayers. These give us an account of her life in Sweden, Italy, and the Holy Land. The “Revelations” were probably in print as early as 1492 and many editions have followed throughout the centuries. Her “Four Prayers” are often reprinted as a stand alone booklet. Another popular booklet is “The Fifteen Prayers of St. Bridget”. These are only a part of her complete works.

Birgitta’s life and her writings have been an inspiration to many. Her chief characteristic was prayer. Birgitta never wavered in her trust in God. Many Christian women have followed in her footsteps devoting themselves to prayer and good works. In 1999 Pope John Paul II declared Birgitta to be the patron saint of Europe.


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