Declared as one of the six patrons of Europe together with Benedict of Nursia, Saints Cyril and Methodius, Catherine of Siena and Edith Stein, Bridget is the most celebrated saint of Sweden. She was a mystic and founder of the Bridgettine Order. Her father was one of the wealthiest landholders of the country, and her parents were distinguished by deep piety. She received a careful religious training and is reputed to have had visions from the age of seven. At the age of thirteen she was married and the marriage was blessed with eight children. The saintly life and the great charity of Bridget soon made her name known far and wide, even at the court of King Magnus Eriksson, over whom she gradually acquired great influence. In 1341 she and her husband went on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Within a year of their return, her husband died. Bridget now devoted herself entirely to a life of asceticism and charitable activities. The visions now became more frequent and definite. She believed that Christ Himself appeared to her, and she wrote down the revelations she then received. She claimed that these revelations led her to urge the Pope’s return from Avignon to Rome and challenge what she saw as a decay in the spiritual life of the church. In 1349 she went to Rome, where except for occasional pilgrimages, she lived for the rest of her life, campaigning for the reform of the church and engaged in charitable activities for the poor and the sick.
One of her preoccupations there was also the founding of the Bridgettine Order which she believed had been ordered by God and for which detailed revelations had been given her. Its speciality was that the members were organized in double monasteries, under the direction of an abbess. The male members, 12 priests, 4 deacons and 8 lay brothers were to act as chaplains and assistants to 60 nuns. Although strictly segregated and with different liturgical obligations, they shared a common church. Her revelations and the devotions they inspired were highly esteemed in the later Middle Ages. They are outstanding examples of the affective spirituality of the time, particularly her devotion to the passion of Christ. She was a significant female presence in the medieval church, holy, fearless and actively involved in the life of the church and society. One can take a look at her life and see why she is a role model even today. She nourished her faith through her devotion to Christ and the saints, particularly St Francis of Assisi. She visited all the then known pilgrimage sites of Christianity. Actively involved in the reform of the medieval church, she strove to heal the western schism by ending the Avignon papacy and urged the return of the Pope to Rome. Sadly, she didn’t live long enough to see Pope Gregory XI follow her advice and return to Rome. A saintly wife and mother, she raised her children in the faith and one of them, Catherine, even became a saint in her own right. Her husband was greatly influenced by her example and even adopted the Rule of the Franciscan Tertiaries in the latter part of their marriage. After the death of her husband, she decided to spend the rest of her life in the service of God. The founding of the Bridgettine Order was the fruit of this desire. The visions she received also manifested the holiness of her life. Standing in front of a crucifix inside the Church of St Paul while on a trip to Rome, she had a vision of Christ. In this divine revelation, Jesus asked her to pray specific prayers in honour of the wounds He received during His Passion. These prayers became highly popular in the Middle ages. During one of the visions, she asked Christ who had hurt Him. He replied, “Those who despise me and refuse my love for them.” Although some of her revelations are criticized, we can remember what St John Paul II said about Bridget of Sweden: “The Church, which recognized Bridget’s holiness without ever pronouncing on her individual revelations, has accepted the overall authenticity of her interior experience.”
(Professor of Church History
at Oriens Theological College,