Historically, Birgitta and Saint Birgitta are not really the same person. It is difficult at times to know what parts are historically accurate and which part is the image of the saint.
As a person, Birgitta was born in 1303 in the upper echelon society. Her father was a lawgiver, a knight, member of the privy council and major landholder. Her mother was just as well to do coming from a lineage of kings dated back to King Canute the Great in Denmark. Her mother died when she was 11 years old and went to live with her Aunt Katarina.
Growing up in aristocratic society, she married Ulf Gudmarsson at 13 much too young but not unusual even though she was not physically matured. The marriage is to form a political and economic alliance. She and Ulf lived as brother and sisters initially, had a good life together. In the course of 17 years of their marriage, they had eight children.
She served as a wife, mother and responsible for the Queen’s court and education until her husband died. She was barely 40 years old. She never remarried and focused her life on her calling and of spiritual matters.
As a saint, Birgitta in her childhood had visions. She met Jesus Christ, Mary, and the devil. During her marriage, she took care of prostitutes, took care of the sick and engaged in other pious acts. Together with her husband, the made pilgrimages.
Christ gave Birgitta three major tasks:
1. Establish a new monastic order in Vadstena
2. Get the Pope to move back to Rome from Avignon
3. Mediate a peace between England and France and end the Hundred Years War
For her to accomplish the tasks, she went to Rome in 1349. She continued to receive revelations for the rest of her life. With the help of spiritual director, they discerned her revelations whether God really talked to her and her visions as well.
In her seventies, Christ told her she has one more journey for her — a pilgrimage to the Holy Land— she told him it was too much for her age and infirmity to handle. And God increased her strength, guided and lead her to Holy Land. Her she received the visions and revelations about Christ’s life that consoled her.
Hope for the Unseen. Bridget’s story demonstrates the peace that comes when we trust that God has a plan tailored to each of our specific situations, no matter how old or young we are. Nothing she set out to do came to fruition during her lifetime: popes remained in Avignon, war raged between England and France, and she died without seeing her order, the Bridgettines, flourish.
She returned to Rome in spring of 1373 and died on July 23 of the same year. A year later her body arrived home to Vadstena from Rome, her final journey.
Birgitta has a lot to tell us today. She sowed seeds of reconciliation, peace, and restoration. “Pope John Paul II named her as one of three patronesses of Europe, along with St. Catherine of Siena and St. Edith Stein. John Paul saw her as a kind of “bridge” for modern Europe—between the northern and southern spheres of the continent, between Protestant Sweden and Catholic Rome, and between the vocations to marriage and the religious life.”
Today, July 23, I am celebrating St. Birgitta’s feast day. I am blessed to know her story as a person and as a saint during my pilgrimage to Vadstena, Sweden. My hope in writing this is to make her known and may we say her short prayer:
O Lord, show me the way and make me willing to walk it.
Quote: The Word Amongst us by Ann Bottenhorn