|Taken from--Cumming. The Revelations
of Saint Brigitta. London: Oxford University Press (1929).
In the year 1302 or 1303(2) Birgitta(3) was born at Finstad, a town a few miles from Upsala in the province of Upland. Her father was Birger, the lagman or governor of Upland.
Birgitta began to have visions at the age of seven;(4) in these visions an angel, the Blessed Virgin Mary, or Christ, usually appeared and talked to her. When she was 10 years of age she heard a sermon on the passion of Christ. That night Christ appeared to her as if he had just been crucified, and said, "Thus am I tortured." Birgitta, thinking that the wounds were fresh, asked, "0 Lord, who has done this to Thee?" Christ replied, "Whoever despises Me and spurns My love does this to Me." From that day on, the passion of Christ affected her so much that she seldom could think of it without tears.(5) It is a constantly recurring theme in her revelations.
At thirteen years of age her father, much against her wishes,(6) married her to the eighteen-year-old Ulf Gudmarson, a youth of noble family and fine personal character. They lived together continently for a year,(7) and Birgitta was especially fervent in her prayers and ascetic devotions. Ulf eventually became the lagman of the province of Nericia(8) and Birgitta bore him four sons and four daughters.(9) St. Catherine, who later accompanied her mother on many of her journeys, was the most famous of her children.(10) During this period of Birgitta's life, the learned Matthias, canon of the cathedral of Lincoping was her father confessor and constant adviser.(11) Ulf, her husband, died in 1344, after they had lived for some years in continence and pious study.(12)
A few days(13) after her husband had died, Christ appeared to Birgitta and told her that he had chosen her to be his bride.(14) From this time on Birgitta's life was changed ; she turned over the management of her estate to others and devoted herself to a religious life. She greatly increased her self-discipline; she fasted often, dressed poorly, and underwent severe penances. In 1346 she received a revelation bidding her to go to Rome.(15) But it was no easy undertaking to leave her affairs and arrange for her children ; two or three years elapsed before her journey began.(16) With a small retinue, including her two confessors, Peter, prior of Alvastra, and Peter Olafson, first confessor of the Vadstena monastery, she finally left Sweden, never more to return alive. On the way to Rome Peter of Alvastra began to teach her the use of Latin. However, she continued to write down her revelations in Swedish, and her confessors translated them into Latin.(17)
Long before leaving Sweden Birgitta had shown a fearless nature in her denunciations of the king and his court.(18) During the years of her stay in Rome she waged ceaseless war against the widespread corruptions in the Church. She unhesitatingly condemned the prelates, forced the abbots to improve the standard of living at their monasteries, and frequently sent letters of advice or denunciation to the pope himself.(19)
She was especially anxious that the papal seat, which had long been at Avignon, should be re-established at Rome. But the popes did not wish to leave the quiet of Avignon for the turmoil of a rebellious city. It was not until 1367 that Urban V brought the long absent court back to Rome. The conditions prevalent in Rome at that time were unendurable to the pope, and he decided to abandon Rome in 1370. This aroused in Birgitta great anger and grief; she warned him, upon penalty of God's severe displeasure and punishment, not to leave Rome.(20) This revelation was delivered to him by Alphonso,(21) one of Birgitta's devoted friends, but did not change the pope's decision. He left the city, and died the same year, in less than a month after returning to Avignon.
Another desire of Birgitta was to have her Order, the Order of St. Saviour or the Birgittine Order, officially approved. She firmly believed that she had received and had written down the rules of the Order exactly as they were given to her by the Mother of God. This Order, the founding of which is Birgitta’s chief religious accomplishment, was to consist of sixty sisters and twenty-five monks. The monks and nuns were to live in separate houses, communicating with the church ; the nuns' choir was to be placed above in such a position as to enable them to listen to the offices of the monks in the lower choir. The monastery was so arranged that the monks and nuns could not see each other, even at confession. Severe, chaste, and abstemious living were strictly prescribed.(22) After many years of command and entreaty by Birgitta, the Order was approved by Urban in 1370.(23) The monastery at Vadstena had been in existence for some time,(24) and after this date the Order rapidly expanded.(25)
In 1372, in obedience to the divine command,(26) Birgitta went to Jerusalem.(27) While in Palestine she had many visions revealing to her incidents in the life of Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary; these revelations form the major part of Bk. VII. Birgitta returned to Rome the same year, very much enfeebled. On 23 July 1373, surrounded by a group of her followers, she died. Her bones were carried to Vadstena,(28) where they may still be seen.(29)
Her two confessors, and Catherine, her daughter, soon returned to Rome to inaugurate the proceedings for her canonization. Gregory XI appointed a commission to investigate the life and writings of Birgitta. The commission was headed by Cardinal Johannes de Turrecremata, who made a very careful study of the revelations. After some delay the canonization, performed by Boniface IX, took place with great pomp on 8 October 1391. On account of the great schism which had split the Church at that time, the validity of the canonization was questioned. The bull of canonization of Birgitta and her Order were confirmed by John XXIII in 1414; and after the schism had ceased, Martin V, after another investigation, signed a confirmation in 1419.(30)
1 I The main authorities for the life of Birgitta are the Vita Sanctae Birgittae (edited in S. R. S. iii, pp. 185206, by C. M. Annerstedt), which was written within four months after her death by her two confessors, Peter, prior of Alvastra, and Peter Olafson, the first confessor of Vadstena ; and the later Vita Sanctae Birgittae (A.S., pp. 485-93), by Birger, archbishop of Upsala. The Vita Abbreviata, published in the first printed edition of her revelations, and also printed in Durantus's edition, uses the revelations themselves as a chief source. C. M. Annerstedt (S.R.S. iii, pp. 186-88) has a full list and critical discussion of the Vitae. Klemming (v, pp. 244-58) gives a list of manuscript lives and printed biographies up to 1884. The best modern critical biographies are by Fr. Hammerich, Den hellige Birgitta og Kirken i Norden, Copenhagen, 1863; Comtesse de Flavigny, Sainte Brigitte, Paris, 1892; and K. Krogh Tonnung, Die heilige Birgitta, Sammlung illustrierter Heiligenleben, Band v, Kempten und Munchen, 1907.
2 The earliest authorities differ (S.R.S. iii, p. 189, note k).
3 Birgitta is her correct name, and not Brigitte, Brigida, or Bridget. Birgitta is probably from Brighitta (cf. A. Noreen, Altschwedische Grammatik, § 339. 2), borrowed from Irish (Brighid), which is from (brigh), virtue, strength, an extension of (bri), which has the same sense. Cf. Fr. Stark, Sitzungsber. d. Kais. Akad. v. Wissenschaften, Phil.-hist. Classe, Wien, lix. 2. 196-7, 1868.
4 S.R.S. iii, p. 190.
5 Durantus, ii, p. 476 (Vita Abbreviata).
6 S.R.S. iii, p. 225, De Processu Canonizationis Birgittae, depositio Katerinae filiae Birgittae, super quarto articulo.
7 S.R.S. iii, pp. 191, 225. Their continency was probably due as much to their youth as to piety, which is the reason given by her biographers.
8 The title Princess of Nericia or Sweden was often given to Birgitta. M. Annerstedt has shown conclusively that she had no real claim to the title (S.R.S. iii, p. 188, notes c, d, e).
9 S.R.S. iii, p. 209, Chronicon de Genere et Nepotibus Sanctae Birgittae, auctore Margareta Clausdotter, abbatissa Vadstenensi.
10 Durantus, ii, pp. 530-53, Vitae -Divae Cathoinae.
11 S.R.S. iii, pp. 191-2.
12 S.R.S. iii, p. 193.
13 A.S., p. 404 no. 151. Some of the early accounts say that it was a year or two after Ulf's death, but the weight of evidence seems to be that Christ chose her to be "sponsa mea et canale meum" within a few days.
14 S.R.S. iii, p. 194, note k. This revelation forms the first chapter of the Garrett MS.
15 Revelationes Extravagantes, ch. 8: 1 Christus loquitur Sponsae existenti in Monasterio Aluastri, dicens: Vade Romam, & manebis ibi, donee videas Papam, & Imperatorem, & illis loqueris ex parts mea verba, quae tibi dicturus sum. Venit igitur Sponsa Christi Romam, anno aetatis suae xxxxii, & mansit ibi iuxta diuinum praeceptum xv annis, antequam veniret Papa,videlicetVrbanus V & Imperator Carolus Boemus. Quibusobtulit Reuelationes pro reformatione Ecclesiae, & Birgitta did not see Urban V until 1367, over twenty years later; see A.S., p. 444, nos. 317-18, for an attempt to explain this chronological discrepancy.
16 S. R. S. iii, p. 202, notes m, n, o.
17 A.S., p. 406, ch. xi.
18 In Revelationes Extravagantes, cbs. 74 and 77, Birgitta flays Magnus Erikson, the king of Sweden, and his court for their worldliness; she also visited and rebuked the king personally. Book VIII, called Liber Celestis Imperatoris ad Reges, has denunciatory revelations which were sent to many kings and queens. Although the revelations seemed to have but little effect on their lives, Birgitta must have instilled a wholesome fear in the hearts of those to whom she wrote, for she was received with the greatest consideration and respect wherever she went.
19 See 5/20-6/12 of the text for an outspoken statement concerning the condition of the Church.
20 I Bk. IV, ch, 33.
21 Alphonso the hermit, formerly bishop of Jaen wrote the Prologus of Book VIII and edited Birgitta's revelations in 1377.
22 Durantus, ii, pp. 351-70, Regula Sancti Salvatoris.
23 A.S., p. 445, no. 322.
24 S.R.S. i, pp. 1-224, Diarium Wazstenense ab anno 1344 ad annum 1545, edited by E. M. Fant.
25 The monastery of Syon House, of the Birgittine Order, was founded by Henry V in the manor of Isleworth, in Middlesex, in 1414-16. It became one of the richest monasteries in England. See William DugdaIe, Monasticon Anglicanum, London, 1830, pp. 540-4; G. J. Aungier, History and Antiquities of Syon Monastery, London, 1840; J. H. Blunt, the preface to The Myroure of Oure Ladye, E.E.T.S., E.S. xix, pp. xi-xix.
26 Bk. VII, ch. 1.
27 On the death of her son Charles at Naples see note on 117/137-118/1 of the text.
28 Durantus, ii p. 480 ; p. 462, no. 389.
29 Sven Gronberger, St. Bridgit of Sweden, American Catholic Quarterly Review, vol. xlii, 1917, p. 145.
30 A.S., pp. 409-18, chs. xii-xiv.