St. Bridget of Sweden: 8 October

Br. Columba Maria

Early life

Birgitta Persson, the youngest daughter of Birger and Ingeborg (née Magnusson), was born in June 1303 at Uppland, north of Stockholm in Sweden. The local parish priest, it is related, beheld a vision of a virgin sitting on a cloud, who said: “A daughter has been born to Master Birger, and her wondrous voice shall be heard all over the world.”

At thirteen, Birgitta was wed to Ulf Gudmarsson, whose brother Magnus married her sister Karin at the same nuptial Mass. She hadn’t wanted marriage. On Quinquagesima Sunday two years earlier, Birgitta had a vision of her crucified Lord: “Oh, my dearest Lord, who has ill-treated you so?” “All they who forget Me and despise My love.”

Married life

Notwithstanding, Birgitta and Ulf were very much in love, remaining chaste for the first two years of marriage, before coming together for the glory of God. Eight children followed during 20 years. Birgitta’s home life was similar to Saint Margaret of Scotland’s. Besides the child-rearing and housekeeping, there were countless other charitable works going on at all times, from mending church vestments and translating scripture, to rescuing fallen women and helping the poor and sick.

Both Ulf and Birgitta were Third Order Franciscans.

Magnus Ericsson became king in 1332, and Ulf became one of his closest aides, as Birgitta’s father had been to the king’s father. Magnus married Blanche of Namur in 1335, and Birgitta’s wisdom and vitality saw her appointed to be teacher and governess to the royal family. For Magnus she drew up a rule of life like to that of Louis IX: daily to hear Mass, recite the Little Office of Our Lady, to think on Christ’s wounds five times. In the temporal realm, she stipulated Friday as a day-in-session, when the king would hear the petitions of his subjects.

Heaven's Ambassador

After Ulf’s death in 1343, Birgitta desired a still-holier life. Our Lord commanded her to tell Magnus that He wanted a new convent built on his property in Vadstena, south-west of Stockholm to house no more than sixty nuns, thirteen priests, and some Brothers; the entire sum equalling the 12 apostles and 72 disciples of the Gospel. A full Rule was also revealed for these cloistered nuns, whose holy lives would appease the divine wrath over the proud, covetous, and concupiscent lives of the Swedes, of whom Magnus asked humility and temperance.

To the wishes of heaven, Magnus was receptive but he could not resolve himself away from his sinful ways, until, as Our Lord predicted, in 1349, Sweden was chastised by the Black Death. In no time at all, one third of its population perished. Fever gave way to boils, fetid breath, vomiting of blood. In response, Magnus swore on the relics of Saint Erik at Uppsala in Uppland “to keep the law towards young and old, towards born and unborn, towards friends and foes, towards present and absent.” But soon after, at a divinely inspired attempt to colonise and evangelise Finland, Magnus committed the sin of Saul in the book of Kings and accepted an oath and a ransom for the lives of a defeated enemy, only to see them return a year later and take back what he had gained.

But Birgitta saw none of this, for Our Lord called her to Rome in the Spring of 1349. Amongst the causes to which she was Heaven’s ambassador were the pope’s return from Avignon, his promulgation of her Rule, and peace in Christendom by the reunion of the pope and the emperor in the Catholic faith.

With respect to the popes in Avignon, Saint Robert Bellarmine decried the residence of bishops outside their sees as one of the principal testimonies against a pope; so when the pope himself, the Bishop of Rome, fails on this point, to what state is the Church reduced? The times were evil. Sensuality existed in (almost!) all the shameful forms it exists today: gluttony, intemperance, immodesty in both men and women, adultery, homosexuality, all were practised throughout Christendom, beginning in Avignon. According to Birgitta, Pope Clement VI damned himself; Urban V, if he did not do the same, came close to it; King Magnus, Queen Giovanna of Naples, Duke John of Cyprus and Cardinal de Ceccano all died bad deaths after ignoring her warnings. It was not until 1377 that Gregory XI would end the Church’s Babylonian Captivity in Avignon.


Throughout her life she was the recipient of many heavenly messages from Our Lord, Our Lady, and the saints. Prayers too were dictated to her, and revelations, many of them published in her own day. She was a pilgrim many times, to Santiago, Jerusalem, Monte Gargano and other holy places. Not surprisingly, many miraculous cures occurred, and unlikely conversions achieved; many souls were saved from the brink.

Saint Birgitta died in Rome on 23 July 1373. Her bones were returned to the new monastery in Vadstena one year later, and on 7 October 1391, she was canonised by Boniface IX with her festival set for the following day.

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