Birgitta of Sweden
Birgitta of Sweden spent her life in two distinct segments, one as a mother and the other as a mystic. She is best known for writing books about her mystical visions of Jesus and Mary and letters to many Church and political leaders. Later in her life, as a result of her visions, she took an active roll in urging the Pope, living in Avignon, to return to Rome. She wrote to church leaders about her visions urging them to end corruption and sin within the church hierarchy. From direction given to her in these visions, she started the Birgittine order of nuns which her daughter Catherine would later lead.
Birgitta married Ulf Gudmarsson, a lawman, at the age of thirteen. Although she wasn’t very keen on the idea of marrying, due to her religious convictions, she found that Ulf shared her zeal for Christianity and the union was a happy one. Birgitta was very bothered by her desire for what she called “marital pleasure.” She avoided sex, even sleeping on the floor away from Ulf at times to avoid temptation. With time, the desire to raise children outweighed her desire to avoid sex. Birgitta gave birth to eight children, one of whom was Catherine, who some view as a saint although she was never officially canonized. While raising children, she also served as the governess of King Magnus’s wife, who was young enough to need a governess.
After returning from a pilgrimage to Cologne, Tarascon, Saint-Baume, and Saint James, Ulf became sick and died. His death in 1344 marked the beginning of Birgitta’s religious life. Some time following the death Birgitta began experiencing visions of Christ, who gave her a vocation. In 1349 she and others left on a pilgrimage to Rome, arriving in 1350, a jubilee year. There, she hoped to form a new religious order, based on her mystical conversations with Jesus. The new order would include both men and women, living in equality, although, they would have to be separate because of past problems with monasteries housing both sexes. The plan was that the order would be very strictly cloistered from the outside world. When the monasteries were actually built, they were made as two separate monasteries, not one for both men and women. Other aspects of Birgitta’s plan were permitted to be implemented into the monasteries. The order was never fully authorized by the Pope until after her death, when her daughter Catherine managed to get Papal authority. While founding her order, she also pushed to bring the Pope (who was in Avignon) brought back to Rome, threatening that returning to Avignon would cause him to have a stroke. She compared him to the devil because of the corruption that existed in the church at the time. She also wrote to the King of Sweden and church leaders urging them to refrain from sin and lead there followers to do the same.
One of Birgitta’s most notable contributions was here writings, The Revelations. In these texts, Birgitta recorded her visions of Jesus and Mary. These visions not only included instruction on the creation of her monastic order, but also on questions of theology and morality. They also include vivid visions of the birth and death of Jesus.
Upon her death in 1373, Birgitta left the Church influenced in several ways. Her daughter Catherine and a grand daughter went on to more fully establish the Birgittine order of nuns. The Revelations were spread throughout the church and had several key impacts. They became the basis for a lot of poetry, prayer, and hymns devoted to Mary. Her visions of the birth, suffering, and death of Jesus influenced art. Previously, art depicted the birth of Jesus as how birth actually looked. Some found this to graphic and so Birgitta’s vision, which emphasized the divine aspect of the birth, became more prevalent in art. Her vision of the death of Jesus was more focused on reality. Her letters helped influence the Papacy to return to Rome and influenced church teaching in Sweden. Birgitta’s body is now kept at the convent of Vadstena. She is considered the patron saint of Sweden.
Bergquist, Lars. “Famous Swedes: Saint Birgitta,” Swedish
Institute. 1 January2000. <htthttp://www.sweden.se/templates/cs/BasicFactsheet____4404.aspx>
(18 December 2005).
This article is by the former Swedish ambassador to the Vatican. He is the author of a number of books about Sweden. The article contains an in depth biography of Birgitta of Sweden. It pays particular attention to The Revelations, Birgitta’s writings and there impact on Sweden and the Church. Of all the sources in this Bibliography this is the one to go to. It contains far more information than any of the others. The author wrote about all aspects of Birgitta's life rather than focusing on one particular aspect.
“Birgitta of Sweden/Birgitta Birgersdotter/Bridget of Sweden (c. 13003-1373)” Available from <http://home.infionline.net/~ddisse/birgitta.html>
(18 December 2005).
This site contains a brief biography of Birgitta of Sweden. The biographical information is short and other sources are better suited for researching Birgitta. The site does, however, contain a number of useful primary sources, such as Birgittian prayers and information on the Birgittian order. The site also contains essays written on Birgitta (including the essay by Lars Bergquist). One of the essays is an analysis of the past study of Birgitta and the impact of the study on Christian tradition. It is useful for researching Birgitta's impact after her death.
Englebert, Omer. The Lives of the Saints. New York: David McKay Company, Inc., 1951.
This is a collection of biographical profiles of saints, organized by there feast day. It provides a good overview of the life of Birgitta of Sweden. It provides places and dates of Birgitta’s travels. It only contains a two page description of Brigitta's life but is useful for basic biographical information. Other sources should be used for more in depth research.
Harris, Marguerit T., Albert Tyle Krezel, Tore Nyberg. Birgitta of Sweden: Life and Selected Writings (Classics of Western
Spirituality). Paulist Press, 1989.
This book is a collection of selected translations from the Revelations along with a biography and the author's analysis of the Revelations. Critics have praised the quality of the translation for its clarity and precision. There is also an edition which has the Revelations excerpts in there original Latin form. (Amazon.com) Birgitta was known for having prayers which permeated into western Christian prayer and song tradition. The book contains translations of four of Birgitta's prayers along with annotations from the authors.
Holloway, Julia Bolton. “St Birgitta of Sweden And her
Revelaciones.” 1999/2005. <http://www.umilta.net/birgitta.html>
(19 December 2005).
This site is dedicated to The Revelations. It contains information on the daily readings done at Brigittine Syon Abbey. The readings are translated into English. Through this site, images of the actual manuscripts and text about them can be purchased. It also contains links to excerpts of the text of The Revelations, although they are all in Latin.
McNamara, Jo Ann Kay. Sisters in Arms: Catholic Nuns Through Two
Millennia. Cambridge and London : Harvard University Press, 1996 .
This book contains a history of Catholic Nuns. It details the religious life of Birgitta of Sweden, particularly her development of her monastic order and the development of her order following her death. It also discusses her campaign to bring Pope Urban V back to Rome from Avignon . The book does not have much information on the life of Birgitta but has a fair amount on the Birgittian order.
St. Birgitta. Revelations of St. Bridget on the Life and Passion of Our Lord and the Life of His Blessed
Mother. Tan Books & Publishers. 1984.
If you are looking to find the translated version of Birgitta's Revelations, this is the title you will find it under. Keep in mind that the translations have been modified over time. To learn more about the modifications see: Jonsson, Arne.
Internet Medieval Sourcebook: “St. Bridget’s Revelations to the Popes: An Edition of the So-Called Tractatus de Summis Pontificibus.” ed. Arne Jönsson <http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/bridget-tractatus.html> (19 December 2005). In his introduction, Arne Jonsson argues that Birgitta’s writings, when collected and copied, were modified. She makes an in depth analysis of her works and compares many copies to show that modifications were made over time. She also attempts to explain why modifications were made by confessors and translators. Since there are many translations in circulation, this is a good study of how effective the translators were.
“St. Birgitta of Sweden’s Revelations.” The European Libraries, 2005. Available from: <http://libraries.theeuropeanlibrary.org/Sweden/Treasures/treasure08.xml>
(19 December 2005).
This site includes an image of one of Birgitta’s writings. Most of her letters and texts were written down for her by other people. This image is one of the rare pieces that Birgitta actually wrote herself.
Weinstein and Rudolph. Saints & Society: The Two Worlds of Western Christendom,
1000-1700. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1982.
This book contains a wealth of information on Birgitta, not found in basic biographical sketches. In includes discussion on Birgitta’s marriage, sexual life, and beliefs on the two, as well as the relation of her children to her sexual life. It places this in the context of many other saints in similar situations, and how there stories have impacted society. It is essentially a study of the impact of saints on Christianity. This book is not useful for finding basic biographical information but the information on her sexual life and marriage can not be found in any of the other books listed on this web page. It can also be used to study how Birgitta's experiences and beliefs compared to those of other saints.
Williamson, Claude. Letters From the Saints: Early Renaissance and Reformation Periods from St. Thomas Aquinas to Bl. Robert
Southwell. New York: Philosophical Library, 1958.
This book contains translations of three letters Birgitta wrote. One was addressed to King Magnus of Sweden and the other two to Gomex D’ Albornoz. They were written in November of 1371, just 2 years prior to Birgitta’s death. It also includes a brief discussion of the context in which the letters were written.
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Written by Sheldon Broedel, III
Last Revision: 18 December 2005
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