July 23 is the feast of St. Bridget (Birgitta) of Sweden (1303 – 1373), a widow and a Third Order Franciscan. For twenty-eight years, she was a devoted wife and mother of eight. Following her husband's death, she pursued a life of contemplation and charity, caring for the sick and the poor. She is one of the most prominent women of the Christian Middle Ages.
St. Bridget is renowned for her astonishing revelations documented carefully by her confessors, filling several volumes. Their accounts of her visions of biblical scenes, especially the nativity and the crucifixion, have greatly inspired imagery in Christian art and her devotions have inspired popular piety. It was, however, for her practical works of charity, that she was canonized, and not for her private revelations.
Bridget was born in Finista in Sweden. From childhood, the Lord granted her special graces, visions and an extraordinary understanding of divine mysteries. At age seven, she had a vision of the Crucified Jesus in all the suffering and sorrow of his Passion, which enkindled within her a deep devotion for our Savior.
The daughter of a wealthy governor and judge, at age 13, Bridget married Ulf Gudmarsson, a prince, who was then eighteen; they lived happily together for twenty-eight years and had eight children, among them St. Catherine of Sweden. Bridget convinced her husband, by her own example, to live a virtuous life and to strive for holiness.
At age 32, Bridget became the lady in waiting to Queen Blanche of Namur and King Magnus II of Sweden. She modelled the virtue of charity by being kind and compassionate to all, but the royalty appeared more content to admire her sanctity rather than to follow her example.
After her youngest son died in 1340, she and her husband went on pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella. On the return trip, Ulf became quite ill, and they returned home soon afterwards. Upon their return, Ulf' entered the Cistercian monastery and died there at the age of 46. Bridget was a widow at age 41. She continued to live in the world, but became a member of the Third Order of St. Francis, spending much of her time in prayer and penance.
At this time, Bridget’s visions became more frequent and intense and she began to wonder if they were from the devil; however, God assured her that they were not, but that she was to become His bride and his mouthpiece.
It was His voice in her visions that dictated to her to found a new religious order, even specifying the details of the Rule for that order. She then founded The Order of the Most Holy Savior, or Bridgettines, which consisted of a double monastery for both men and women at Vadstena. King Magnus and his queen generously supported the monastery. Any surplus of money they received was given to the poor and used to provide books for study.
Through Bridget, Christ reprimanded the popes for not returning to Rome from Avignon; but even calling Clement VI (1342-52) “a destroyer of souls, worse than Lucifer, more unjust than Pilate, and more merciless than Judas” failed to change his mind. She also delivered several messages to Pope Innocent VI, Urban V, and Gregory XI.
Directed by God to go the Holy Land in 1371, Bridget set out on pilgrimage with her daughter, Catherine, two of her sons, and other pilgrims. Her son Charles died in Naples on the way there (after an affair with the notorious Queen Joanna), and they were nearly shipwrecked, but once they made it there, Bridget was blessed with extraordinary graces. In the Holy Land, she received detailed visions of episodes in the life of Jesus in the places where they were said to have occurred. She also admonished the people of Cyprus and Naples for their immoral ways, with little effect. She arrived back in Rome early already ill and died on July 23, 1373, at the age of seventy – one. Her remains were taken back to the monastery at Sweden. She was canonized in 1391 Pope Boniface IX.
Bridget is the patron saint of Sweden and widows. She is the co-patroness of Europe, along with St. Catherine of Siena, and St. Teresa Benedicta (Edith Stein).
Prayer to St. Bridget
With hearts full of confidence, we turn to you, O Saint Bridget, in these times of darkness and unbelief, to invoke your powerful intercession on behalf of those who are separated from the true Church of Jesus Christ. Conscious of your deep knowledge of the cruel sufferings of our crucified Savior, we beseech you to obtain the gift of Faith for all those who are outside the one fold, so that all the scattered sheep may be return to the one true Shepherd, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen!
St. Bridget, fearless in the service of God, pray for us.
St. Bridget, patient in suffering and humiliation, pray for us.
St. Bridget, marvelous in thy love towards Jesus and Mary, pray for us.
(Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be)