Bridget's Early Life (§ 1).
Bridget's Revelations and Later Life (§ 2).
Her Works (§ 3).
The Brigittine Order (§ 4).
Bridget, the famous Scandinavian mystic and monastic founder, was born probably at Finstad, not far from Upsala, in 1303; d. in Rome July 23, 1373. Her father, Birger Persson, was one of the principal landowners of the district, and charged with both administrative and judicial functions. Her family on both sides had been distinguished for religious devotion, and the child received a careful education in spiritual things. Her imagination, nourished on the lives of the saints, brought her her first vision at the age of seven. Others followed, the reality of which neither she nor her parents doubted. After her mother's death, Bridget was entrusted to an aunt at Aspanäs, whose strict discipline laid the foundation of her asceticism and strength of will. In 1316 she was married, in pursuance of her father's political plans, to Ulf, son of the governor of the province of Nerike, and took up her residence at Ulfåsa in that province, where she acquired great influence by the renown of her piety and unselfishness. By degrees she collected around her a group of devout and learned menNicolaus Hermanni, renowned as a Latin poet, and later bishop of Linköping, who was the instructor of her children; Matthias, her confessor, the foremost theologian of the time in Sweden; Prior Peter of Alvastra; and another Peter, who succeeded Matthias as her confessor. Through Matthias, who was the author of a commentary on Revelation, she gained an insight into the religious movements and the rich apocalyptic literature of the day. After King Magnus Ericsson's marriage with Blanche of Namur, Bridget became chief lady-in-waiting to the queen, and soon acquired a great influence at the court.
No remarkable visions of revelations seem to have marked this period. When, however, she was approaching the age of forty (probably between 1341 and 1343), she and her husband made a pilgrimage to the shrine of St. James at Compostella (see COMPOSTELLA). On the way back, Ulf fell ill at Arras; and as she watched by his bedside, she thought she saw St. Denis, the protector of France, who told her that she was under the special care of heaven. Her husband's recovery, which was indicated as a sign of this, was only temporary. He died in 1344, and Bridget believed the last tie which bound her to earth had been broken. Not long afterward, she thought she saw Christ himself, who said to her: "Thou art my spouse, and the link between me and mankind; thou shall see and hear marvelous things, and my Spirit shall be upon thee all thy days." This was her first revelation, strictly so called. She and those around her were fully convinced of the reality and the divine origin of these revelations. She used to write or dictate them in Swedish; later they were somewhat freely put into Latin
The authorized edition of Bridget's works contains eight books of revelations, besides another of Revelationes extravagantes, or supplement, from the collection of Prior Peter, with his own notes; the rule of her order; and a collection of edifying readings for the community, with certain prayers (known as the Quattuor orationes). The works were first printed at Lübeck in 1492 from the official copy preserved at Vadstena; the Roman edition of 1628 is considered the best. The "Revelations" have been translated into most European languages and into Arabic. With much that is superstitious and fantastic, they contain a pure mysticism, rich in thought, and marked by deep insight into the inner mysteries of the devout life. Bridget's views are of course medieval and those of a submissive daughter of the Roman Catholic Church. None the less, they show traces of admirable anticipations of Reformation ideas. The conception of the universal priesthood appears here and there; in her personal devotion, she goes back to the eternal source of life and truth; and her rule commends the preaching of the Word to the people in the vernacular.
The Brigittine Order (Ordo Sancti Augustini sancti Salvatoris nuncupatus) was intended by her as an instrument for spreading the Kingdom of God upon earth. Its convents (as, e.g., at Fontévraud) were for both monks and nuns, though their dwellings were separate. The age of entrance was twenty-five for men and eighteen for women. The convent was to be ruled by an abbess selected by the community. Originally the monks were governed by a prior independent of the abbess, but before long the pope subjected them also to her rule, the former prior being called only confessor-general. At the same time they were placed under immediate papal jurisdiction, though provision was made for a yearly visitation by the bishop. They were strictly cloistered; silence was observed, except at certain hours, but the rule of fasting was not rigorous. The monks were admitted to the nuns' convent only to administer the sacraments to the dying or to carry out the dead. The rich endowments of the convent of Vadstena, which remained the mother house, show the popularity of this national foundation among all classes. Not a few Brigittine convents, however, sprang up in other countries, prominent among which were Nådendal in Finland, Munkaliv near Bergen, Mariendal near Revel, Marienwald near Lübeck, Marienkron near Stralsund, and Sion House, Richmond, near London. The importance of the order during the later Middle Ages for the civilization of the North, and especially of Sweden, can hardly be overestimated. Vadstena has been called the first high-school of the North; on it and on its daughter house at Nådendal the literary life of Sweden before the Reformation depended. Vadstena had the largest library in Sweden; and here were made the first attempts toward a complete Swedish version of the Bible. In 1495 a printing-press was set up; but it was destroyed by fire the same year, and published nothing so far as known.
The order was so deeply rooted in Sweden that it survived the Reformation, though with diminished strength. Not even Gustavus Vasa's hatred of the "popery" of the Brigittines could entirely destroy the devotion of all classes to them. During the sixteenth century his wife, sons, and daughters, and many others of the highest nobility, as well as numbers from other classes are found among the benefactors of Vadstena, which, however, was suppressed by Duke Charles in 1595. The Reformation abolished most of the houses outside of Sweden, but an attempt was made to revive it in the Counterreformation, to which period belong the Fratres novissimi Birgittini in Belgium, confirmed by Gregory XV, and the reformed order for women introduced only into Spain by the visionary Marina de Escobar (d. 1633) and confirmed by Urban VIII. This is said to have a few houses in Spain now; and four convents of the original order still existat Altomünster in Bavaria, St. Bridget's Abbey in Devonshire, and two in Holland.
The two earliest lives, by the two confessors
of Bridget in the year of her death, were published
by Dr. C. Annerstedt in Script. rerum Svecicarum medii
vi, III, ii, 188-206, Upsala, 1876. The Vita sive chronicon
by Margareta Clausdota was published in Script. Suscici
medii vi, ed. J. E. Rietz, pp. 193-240, Lund, 1844.
Early material is found also in ASB, Oct. 4th, pp. 368-560.
The best modern accounts are in H. Schück, Svensk
Literaturhistoria, pp. 129 sqq., Stockholm, 1890, and in
Illusterad Svensk Litteraturhistoria, i, 84 sqq., ib. 1896.
Consult also L. Clarus, Das Leben der heiligen Birgitta,
Regensburg, 1856; J. B. Schwab, Johannes Gerson, pp.
364 sqq., Würzburg, 1858; F. Hammerich, St. Birgitta,
die nordische Prophetin und Ordensstifterin, Gotha, 1872
(Germ. transl. from the Swedish); Bettina von Rinsgeis,
Leben der heiligen Birgitta, Regensburg, 1890; G. Binder,
Die heilige Birgitta von Schweden und ihr Klosterorden,
Munich, 1891; Comtesse Flavigny, Ste. Brigitte de
Suède, Paris, 1892; A. Brinkmann, Den hellige Birgitta, Copenhagen, 1893.
For the order consult: Rerum Suevicarum script. medii vi, ed. E. M. Fant, I, i, 1818 sqq., Upsala, 1818; History of the Eng. Brigittine Nuns, Plymouth, 1886; Gesammelte Nachrichten über die einst bestandenen Kloster vom Orden der heiligen Birgitta, Munich, 1888; Binder, ut sup., and Geschichte der bayrischen Birgitten-Klöster, ib. 1896; Helyot, Ordres monastiques, ii, 146 sqq., Currier, Religious Orders, pp. 185-187; Heimbucher, Orden und Kongregationen, i, 440, 505-510.
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