By student Daniel Karner
“We shall all be saved”
“I heard wonderful sweet singing of many angels”
A patron saint of Europe, this 14th century mystic founded the Bridgettine nuns and monks who lived in joint communities. Married and the mother of eight, she went on pilgrimages to Spain, Rome, and the Holy Land. Her name appears as Birgitta or Bridget.
Patron saint of: Sweden, Europe, widows, healers, scholars
Feast Day: July 23
Born: Around 1303
Who was she?
Bridget of Sweden was a visionary and saint from the 14th century. After marrying at the age of thirteen and mothering eight children, she devoted her life and her love to God. Bridget began seeing visions of Jesus Christ as early as seven years old, and after her husband’s death in 1344, she believed she was summoned to be Christ’s bride. She felt that her visions allowed her to be a representative for God’s desires in the natural world, and she went to many lengths to fight for the causes God instructed through her. Bridget’s influence during her time was strong, but not always without controversy. She never shied away from disagreeing with some of the Church’s decisions, and this created enemies for her. Despite her bold words, she was a revered figure in Europe and specifically in Sweden, and was canonized as a saint in 1391.
Bridget was born around 1303 to a family in Sweden that was distantly related to royalty. After her mother’s death when she was around eleven years old, Bridget and her sister moved to go live with their aunt who was married to an important noble man in Sweden. In 1316, Bridget and her sister were arranged to marry two other noble brothers who were sons of a Swedish knight. Despite being forced into a marriage at such a young age, it is believed that Bridget was happy with her husband. Over the next twenty-five years, Bridget had eight children. She even spent several years as lady-in-waiting to the queen of Sweden (a “lady-in-waiting” is someone who is somewhat of a personal assistant, but was considered more of a companion than a servant). In 1341, Bridget went on a holy pilgrimage, which resulted in her husband getting sick on the return trip. After her husband’s death in 1344, Bridget devoted her life to working for God.
When Bridget changed the direction of her life toward a divine existence serving God, she had multiple goals she hoped to achieve in her lifetime.
- Ending the corruption within the clergy of the Church
- Returning the Pope’s home to Rome (it had been moved to Avignon, France)
- Ending the war between France and England (the Hundred Years’ War)
- Establishing a religious order (a community of men and women devoted to doing God’s work)
Bridget was a strong-willed woman who felt the power of God was flowing through her to accomplish these goals. She made friends with powerful men in the church and statesmen in the government. But being a woman in the 14th century meant that it was difficult for her to gain support. In order for the men of her time to take her seriously, she would need to prove that she was speaking the word of God. The way that Bridget did this was to write down her visions and study as many religious books as she could. She knew that men would only listen to her if they believed that God had truly visited her and told her his wishes, and this could be proved by how intelligent she appeared.
Bridget’s decision to write down her visions in Revelaciones has shown to be the longest lasting effect of Bridget’s work. The book continues to guide religious readers to this day. The way that Bridget wrote down her visions was done very clearly and in ways that obviously suggest the proper ways to live a devout life that God would be happy about.
By the end of Bridget’s life in 1373, she had done a great job working on completing all of her goals. Ending the corruption proved to be a difficult task since the Church [some say] is still fighting this. But her work influenced many clergymen to take a closer look at themselves and their colleagues as to whether or not they were truly living the way God intended. Bridget succeeded in helping return the Pope’s home to Rome, though only for a while. While the Hundred Years’ War between France and England didn’t end until the 15th century, she worked tirelessly toward that end. Finally, Bridget was able to establish her Brigittine Order in Vadstena, Sweden. All of these accomplishments combined together to help lead to her canonization as a saint in 1391.
Bridget’s greatest impact on her world was her ability to empower women. Bridget’s life was not the normal route a divine woman had taken in the past. Normally, a woman had to be a virgin all of her life to truly be seen as an important person in the Church. Bridget of Sweden was one of the first women to provide an example of someone who had been married and been a mother, and yet still could perform important godly acts during her time. Many women who were mothers looked up to Bridget and saw a way to live a devout life.
Saints Speak video (a fictionalized St. Bridget speaks about what Mary experienced in the life and death of her son Jesus and how today she is our faithful advocate)
Saint Bridget Reflection on July 23rd (Father James Kavicky’s reflections on Saint Bridget)
Butkovich, Anthony. Revelations: Saint Birgitta of Sweden. Los Angeles: Ecumenical Foundation of America, 1972. Print.
Morris, Bridget. St Birgitta of Sweden. Suffolk, UK: Boydell Press, 1999. Print.
Voaden, Rosalynn. God’s Words, Women’s Voices. Suffolk, UK: York Medieval Press, 1999. Print
Pictures (click for additional Saint Bridget resources)
By Daniel Karner