St Bridget of Sweden, Religious, Patron of Europe (Feast)
Bridget, born in 1303, one of eight children, was the daughter of Birger Persson, governor and provincial judge (Lagman) of Uppland, and of Ingeborg Bengtsdotter. Her father was one of the wealthiest landholders of the country. Both parents were marked by their deep piety. St. Ingrid, whose death had occurred about 20 years before Bridget was born, was a near relative of the family. Bridget received careful religious formation and, from the age of seven, showed herself to be deeply religious. In addition to her formation, it was also due to the influence of an aunt who took the place of Bridget’s mother who had died, that she developed her strength of will in later life.
In 1316, at the age of 13, she was married to Ulf Gudmarsson, who was then 18 years of age. She had a great influence over her husband and the happy marriage was blessed with eight children, among them St. Catherine of Sweden. Because of her saintly life and charitable work, Bridget’s name soon became widely known. She knew several learned and devout theologians, among them Nicolaus Hermanni, later Bishop of Linköping, Matthias, canon of Linköping, her confessor, Peter, Prior of Alvastrâ, and Peter Magister, her confessor after Matthias. We later find her at the court of King Magnus Eriksson, over whom she gradually had great influence.
Between 1341 and 1343 she made a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella with her husband. On the way home, her husband became ill but recovered sufficiently to be able to complete the journey. Shortly afterwards, however, he died in the year 1344 in the Cistercian monastery of Alvastrâ in East Gothland.
Bridget now devoted herself entirely to an ascetical life and to religious works. The visions which she claimed to have had from her early childhood now became more frequent and definite. She believed that Christ himself appeared to her. She wrote down the revelations she received and they were widely known during the Middle Ages.
Bridget next founded a new religious congregation, the Brigittines, or Order of St. Saviour, whose chief monastery, at Vadstena, was richly endowed by King Magnus and his queen in 1346.
To get official approval of her institute and to widen the sphere of activity for her mission to raise the morals of the people, she went to Rome in 1349. In August 1370 Pope Urban V confirmed the rule of her congregation. She stayed on in Rome until her death, except for some pilgrimages, including one to the Holy Land in 1373.
Bridget strongly urged Pope Urban to return to Rome from exile in Avignon but her greatest influence in Rome was by the example she gave in urging people to live a better life.
She died on 23 July 1373 and was originally buried at San Lorenzo in Panisperna before being moved to the monastery at Vadstena in Sweden.
She was canonized by Pope Boniface IX on 7 October 1391 and this was confirmed by the Council of Constance in 1415.
Together with Saints Benedict, Cyril and Methodius, Catherine of Siena, and Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), Bridget was declared a Patron of Europe by Pope John Paul II in 1999.