Today the church honors another saint who doesn’t get a lot of attention, but deserves it, St. Birgitta of Sweden.
Birgitta was born into a family of status. Her father was the chief judge in the province of Upland, Sweden in the 14th Century. As a child she began having dreams and visions of Jesus and Mary, which started her mystical journey.
Due to her proximity to the powerful in Sweden, she was appointed the lady-in-waiting to the queen of Sweden, Blanche of Namur. There she became known for having fantastical visions, and for being a staunch opponent of underhanded behavior from the nobles of the land.
She was not known for keeping her opinion to herself.
After her son died too young, she went on a pilgrimage, walking the Santiago de Compostella in Spain, accompanied by her husband. On the trip back, her husband (his name was Ulf…a great name) became seriously ill, and he died just a few years later, never fully recovering.
After the death of both her young son and her husband, Birgitta’s life became more akin to the prophets as her visions and dreams intensified. She devoted her time to helping the poor and oppressed, the underclass in Sweden, and later also in Rome.
She openly criticized the kings and popes and tried to make peace between warring factions of the church and the world.
Acting on one of her visions, in 1351 she founded the Order of the Holy Savior, also known as the Birgittines, centered on a monestary in Vadstena, Sweden.
The order was mixed-gender, comprised of both monks and nuns, but governed by an abbess.
In 1371 Birgitta embarked on one final journey, this time to see the Holy Land. The trip was cut short by a shipwreck and the death of one of her other children who went with her. She died in Rome, and her body was returned to Vadstena, where it is still buried.
Today her legacy lives on in the Society of St. Birgitta, a community of both clergy and laity within the Church of Sweden who follow a modified Rule of life inspired by her memory. Her dreams and visions are recorded in the book “Revelations” which is still read by mystics today.
Birgitta is a reminder for me of the power that putting our dreams into action can have, and that we are called to speak with conviction when the powers of the world conspire against the weak.
-historical notes gleaned from Pfatteicher’s “New Book of Festivals & Commemorations”