Sometimes we only concentrate on ‘celebrity’ Saints, we often hear about their lives, their teachings, books and quotations, however what about the lesser known Saints? I mean they are Saints too, and have a dedicated feast day to their name?
July 23rd, the feast day of a woman called Birgitta Birgersdotter, now St Bridget of Sweden, the Patroness of Sweden. It was the first time I have ever heard of such a Saint, why was I interested? Well because she was married with children, but she still became a Saint!
St Bridget was born around 1303 in Uppland, Sweden, just north of Stockholm. She was the daughter of Birger Persson, the governor and provincial judge of Uppland, and Ingeborg Bengtsdotter, a deeply pious woman. Her father was one of the wealthiest landholders of the country, and, like her mother, was also deeply pious. He regularly attended confession every Friday and often made long pilgrimages to the Holy Land.
Unfortunately, in 1315 St Bridget’s mother passed away, leaving her, aged ten, her younger sister Katharine, aged nine and her baby brother, Israel, a newborn. All three kids were then sent to live and be educated by their maternal aunt, of whom she owed the strength of will which later distinguished her.
Like most young girls in her days, an early marriage was common and at the age of thirteen she was married to Ulf Gudmarsson, who was then eighteen. It was a happy and prosperous marriage, both lived out a very noble and pious life and together had eight children, four boys and four girls, among them St. Catherine of Sweden.
She was a devoted mother, a great philanthropist, and women well connected which made her very well-known. Her acquaintance with King Magnus Eriksson, allowed her to become the King’s Lady-in Waiting as she taught the King’s newly married queen Blanche of Namur, the language and customs of her new country.
In 1344, St Bridget would be widowed. In the previous years 1341-43 she accompanied her husband and made a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella. Unfortunately, on the return journey her husband fell seriously ill, but recovered enough to finish the journey. Shortly afterwards, he passed away in the Cistercian monastery of Alvastrâ in East Gothland.
As a young child, St Bridget always had visions. Her very first dream-vision was of ‘The Man of Sorrows,’ she recalls asking him: ‘who had done that to Him? He replied: ‘all those who despise my love.’ Since her husband’s death, her visions became more frequent and she believed that Christ himself appeared to her often.
At the age of 41, The Lord called St Bridget to found a new religious order for women. They are known as the Brigittines, or the Order of St. Saviour, whose monastery, a little palace at Vadstena, which was richly bestowed by King Magnus and his queen in 1346.
Unfortunately, St Bridget never saw the monastery at Vadstena. She had received a vision by Christ to leave for Rome, and in 1349, her sole concerns involved the Church’s reformation. Her mission was to encourage Pope Urban to remove the Holy See from Avignon back to Rome. However, in her efforts nothing she set out to do was ever realised and although she longed to return to her monastery, she never got to return to Sweden, as she died on 23 July 1373 while still in Rome. However, a year after her death, her remains were brought back to the monastery in Vadstena.
‘Some say she can be called the Patroness of Failures. In this she was like her Lord. He was also classed as failure as He hung on the Cross.’
St Bridget was a successful failure as she was canonized in 1391.