Saint Bridget of Sweden
Finster, Upland, Sweden, in 1303.
Rome, Italy. July 23, 1373.
Pope Boniface IX canonized her on October 7, 1391.
Patron Saint of Europe
John Paul II proclaimed her a Patroness of Europe on October 1, 1999.
St. Bridget was born around the year 1303 in Finster, in the Upland region of Sweden. Her parents, Birger Petersson and Ingeborg Bengtsdotter, belonged to families of nobility, closely related to the royal family. They were a pious couple, known for their devotion and their virtuous life. When Bridget was still quite young, her mother died, and so she was raised by her aunt. She received instruction in religion and in virtue.
The Blessed Virgin first appeared to her when she was around 7 years old. Our Lady invited the child to live according to God’s will to reach sanctity, offering her a crown of thorns. Later, when she was approximately 13 years old, after hearing a sermon about the Lord’s Passion, she was profoundly impressed and aquired a great devotion for Christ Crucified. On another occasion, praying before a crucifix, she asked the Lord, “Who did this to you?” He responded, “Those who despised me and ridiculed my love.” From that moment on, the saint made a firm resolution to always treat him with love and to help others to love Jesus more.
When she was 14 years old, she married Ulf Gudmarsson. She and her husband were both very devout people, given over to prayer and to works of charity with the poor and sick. Bridget and Ulf had 8 children: Marta, Charles, Birger, Catherine, Benedict, Gudmar, Ingeborg y Cecilia.
King Magnus of Sweden asked St. Bridget, who stood out for her teaching gifts, to instruct his wife. In this way, the saint became one of the main women of the court. One day she felt moved to make a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela (Spain) and she asked for the king’s permission to do so. In 1341, she went on this pilgrimage with her husband Ulf, who fell seriously sick on the journey. During his sickness, Saint Dionisius appeared to him promissing him health in exchange for his surrender to a life of holiness. During the return trip from Santiago, the couple decided together to live a life of chastity. Ulf entered a Cistercian monastery in Alvastra and died shortly after, in 1344.
Inspired by a vision, St. Bridget founded a monastery in Vadstena. It was a monastery for 70 women religious with an adjoining house for 25 men religious. The monks were bound in temporal aspects to the abess and, in turn, they garanteed the sacraments and spiritual aid to the sisters.
In 1349 she traveled to Rome, accompanied by her daughter Catherine, hoping to receive approval from the Holy See of the new foundation, which would be called the Order of the Holy Savior. At that time the pope did not live in Rome but in Aviñón, France. The Lord asked St. Bridget to wait in Rome for the Pope’s return, and so she did. It was a long wait of almost 20 years. Meanwhile, the saint gathered around her a group of devout persons to do works of charity and to pray together. Among the “Friends of God” (the name which she gave to the group) were: her daughter Catherine; two swiss priests, Peter of Alvastra and Peter of Skänninge; and the hermit Alphonsus of Vadaterra, who later undertook the work of compiling the writings and revelations of St. Bridget.
Their activities were varied; they visited the sick, collected alms for the poor, assisted pilgrims and foregeiners, prayed for the deceased in the cementeries, made pilgrimages to the churches and sanctuaries, etc. In addition to all this, St. Bridget recieved revelations in which the Lord asked her to admonish certain persons so that they might change their conduct. She promptly obeyed, forgetting about herself, and doing a job that was many times unpleasant.
When Pope Urban V finally returned to Rome, he approved the rules of the Order of the Savior, although the final text did not include all the points which St. Bridget had desired. Despite the saint’s insistance and begging, the pope did not remain in Rome, he returned to Aviñón. This forced her to remain in Rome, awaiting the definitive return of the Holy Father, something which she was not able to see during her lifetime.
In 1371 she made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with the “Friends of God.” During this trip, the Lord and his Most Blessed Mother revealed many details of their hidden life and of his Passion to her. Shortly after returning, St. Bridget became seriously ill and on July 23, 1373 she passed away, surrounded by her faithful “friends of God.” She was buried in Rome in a provisional manner until the next year when her children came and took her body to the monastery of Vadstena, Sweden. Her daughter Catherine – who is also canonized – continued the work of the Order of the Savior. In 1375 she returned to Rome to petition the pope for the definitive approval of the rules and the canonization of her mother.
St. Bridget was canonized in 1391 by Pope Boniface IX. In October, 1999, Pope John Paul II proclaimed her the “Patroness of Europe” along with St. Catherine of Siena and St. Edith Stein.
The Lord manifested the greatness of the Most Blessed Sacrament of his Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, to St. Bridget through her visions. He himself invited her to receive the Eucharist more frequently, to strengthen herself in virtue and to nourish her soul. In one of her revelations, he said, “Bodily food when it is ground becomes liquid; in second place, it is destroyed and lastly it gives nourishment for some time. But the nourishment that I give, though ground remains the same; it is not destroyed and is always the same. Finally, it does not nourish for a given time but for all eternity. This food was symbolized by the manna that the fathers ate in the desert. This food is the flesh which forever satiates and which was promised in the Gospels. Later, in the same way that a sick person recovers physical strength with food, so too all who receive my Body with good intention, grow in spiritual strength. It is a most efficacious medicine which enters into the soul and satiates it; it is unperceivable by the bodily senses, but it is manifested to the intelligence of the soul.”
St. Bridget was greatly devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary. When she was 7 years old, Our Lady appeared to her and offered her a crown of thorns, which she accepted. Throughout her whole life, she frequently had visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who revealed to her many things about herself and about her son Jesus. She reached a level of great intimacy and trust in her.
She felt a special devotion for Our Lady of Sorrows and she frequently meditated on her role during the Passion of the Lord.
- St. Bridget was initially buried in Rome, in the church of St. Laurence in Panisperna. However her children, Birger and Catherine, moved her remains to the monastery in Vadstena, Sweden in 1374. She currently rests there.
- The rooms in which St. Bridget lived and died, and some of her relics, are preserved in the Bridgenttine Sister’s house in Rome, Italy.
- In the basilica St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome, Italy, one can venerate the miraculous crucifix which St. Bridget used to pray before and which so many times spoke to her.
By the Saint:
St. Bridget dictated the revelations she received to her confessors, who translated them to Latin and compiled them into 8 volumes under the title, “Revelationes” (The Revelations). They are now translated into many different languages and can be found in religious bookstores and online.
By the Popes:
- Motu Proprio in which Pope John Paul II proclaims St. Catherine of Siena, St. Bridget of Sweden and St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, the Patronesses of Europe. Given on October 1, 1999.
- Pope Benedict XVI’s catechesis during the general audience on October 27, 2010.
By other authors:
On the Bridgettine Sister’s official web page, you can find some books on the saint and about her spirituality, edited by the sisters. You can access their page here.