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Catholic Heroes . . . St. Bridget

September 13, 2022 saints No Comments

By DEB PIROCH

“Oh my friends, I love my sheep so tenderly that were it possible I would die many other times for each one of them that same death I suffered for the redemption of all” — Words attributed to Christ, Revelations of St. Bridget.

  • + + In 1999, Pope St. John Paul II issued a moto proprio, making St. Bridget a co-patroness of Europe, along with Saints Teresa Benedicta and Catherine of Siena. In 2020 Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI also made her the subject of his weekly audience, referencing John Paul II and his teaching about Bridget’s life, explaining how her life may be easily divided into two parts: the first is her family and married life, the second her widowed life. These show us all a beautiful way we may practice our own Christian path. This mystic also had visions throughout much of her life. While the Church has not made a pronouncement on the revelations per se, it has “has accepted the overall authenticity of her interior experience,” according to Pope Benedict XVI.
    Her father, Birgir, was of royal blood, and her mother, Ingeburgis, the daughter of Sigridis, descended from the kings of the Goths. Both were very piously inclined, particularly to Our Lord’s Passion, foreshadowing an aspect that would be a major focus in their own daughter’s life. For, at the age of ten, Bridget would have her first vision. She saw Christ bleeding on the cross, covered in wounds. She asked Him, “Who has treated you thus?” And He answered, “Those who despise me, and are insensible to my love for them.”
    Her father practiced additional acts of penance on Fridays, went to Confession and attended Mass, attempting especially on Fridays to bear his crosses the more lightly. Bridget’s mother died when she was small. It is difficult to pinpoint the age, because we do not know for certain Bridget’s birth year, and Butler’s Lives says her aunt then took over raising her. Some biographical accounts say her father wanted her to marry as young as age thirteen, but we will stick with Butler’s Lives which states she was 16, her husband, 18. Ulpho by name, he was the prince of Nericia in Sweden and she persuaded him to wait a year before engaging in conjugal relations. Then the two of them had eight children, six of whom lived and two of whom became religious, two married, and two died in the holy war in Palestine. One named Catherine even became a saint.
    As all couples do, they no doubt learned from one another. They became members of the Third Order of St. Francis. After their children were born, he determined to give up his role at court and together they built a hospital for the sick, where they served. After their children were cared for, they dedicated the rest of their estates to the poor, and determined to make the difficult pilgrimage together to Compostela, which was no easy endeavor. On the way back, her husband became very ill and Bridget prayed hard by his side for him to live. She had a vision that he would live and he did, though he died not long after their return to Sweden. He died in the odor of sanctity in the Cistercian monastery at Alvastre, after a marriage of nearly 30 years.
    After this point begins the second stage of the life of Bridget, when as a widow, she founded the Bridgettine order. Having divided her husband’s estate among her children, she stopped living as the world would have one live and began wearing rougher clothing. She fasted on only bread and water on Fridays. She built the monastery at Vadstena, and the regulation of the order there was prescribed, she said, by the visions she received from our Lord. Its main focus was devotion to the Passion of Christ and His Holy Mother. The order was also heavily endowed by great King Magnus Eriksson and his wife.
    After two years she went to Rome on pilgrimage, never actually returning to Sweden. Her primary instigation had been to gain approval from the Pope for her order, this during the time of the dual papacy. She would urge Pope Urban V to return to Rome, but did not succeed. (St. Catherine of Siena continued by urging Pope Gregory XI to do the same after her death.)
    Her visions were recorded and encompass many volumes. It is said that for a long time she asked our Lord to reveal to her how many wounds He had from His Passion. While she was praying before a crucifix at St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome, He told her He had received 5,480 wounds to His body. He then allegedly revealed to her a prayer devotion that could be done for a year, whereby prayers said daily would amount to one set a day for each wound, in atonement for our sins.
    This is not a premise of the faith, but we are permitted such a pious practice, as Pope Benedict XV stated: “Though they don’t merit the same credence as the truths of religion, one can, however, believe them out of human faith, conforming to the rules of prudence by which they are probable, and supported by sufficient motives that one might believe in them piously.”
    Those who wish to know more may search the Internet for the “15 Prayers of St. Bridget,” also called the “Pieta” of St. Bridget. Many aspects of her visions became incorporated into medieval art and were very popular.
    During her time in Rome, she would also work for reform in the Church, prayed countless hours and visited holy sites, even the Holy Land, which was very difficult for her. She attended Confession daily and likely attended Mass as frequently. She was remembered for her smile, as well as for her holiness. When she passed away in 1373, she was originally buried in Rome, but a year later two of her children moved her back to Vadstena. One of the children was her daughter, St. Catherine, who would also be buried there. Already by 1391 she was canonized.
    Her order spread rapidly, but was heavily suppressed during the Reformation. By 1515 there were 80 houses in different countries, 13 in Scandinavia, and 27 in England, the latter very wealthy. Today only two monasteries of the original medieval branches exist with barely any nuns; in Sweden there are only eight nuns left. However, St. Bridget’s relics remain at Vadstena Abbey and other different branches of Bridgettines have been founded, the largest by St. Elizabeth Hesselblad, in the 1940s.
    St. Bridget’s feast day is July 23.
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