In This Article Birgitta of Sweden and the Birgittine Order

  • Introduction
  • Bibliographies
  • Life
  • Canonization
  • Early Printed Editions of the Revelations
  • Cantus Sororum
  • Offices for Saint Birgitta
  • Sermons and Preaching
  • Art
  • Syon

Medieval Studies Birgitta of Sweden and the Birgittine Order
by
Volker Schier
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 September 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0255

Introduction

Birgitta Birgersdotter (b. 1303 in Finsta near Uppsala, d. 23 July 1373 in Rome) was a Swedish mystic and founder of the Birgittine Order. Birgitta was born into the higher nobility of Sweden; her father, Birger Persson of Finsta, was regional judge of Uppland and her mother a member of the Folkunga family, related to the ruling king of Sweden. At the age of thirteen Birgitta was married to Ulf Gudmarsson of Ulvåsa; Birgitta bore eight children, of which six survived infancy. From 1335 to 1340, Ulf became advisor to the king, and Birgitta was chosen lady-in-waiting to Queen Blanche de Namur, thus gaining access to the influential Swedish court circles. From 1341 to 1343 the couple undertook a pilgrimage to the tomb of the apostle James in Santiago de Compostela, a journey which took them through war-torn France. Shortly after returning to Sweden, Ulf retired to the Cistercian abbey at Alvastra, where he died in 1344. Birgitta chose to remain near the monastery, but also spent time in the nearby castle at Vadstena, where she purportedly received her first visions. Following a vision she received in 1349, Birgitta left Sweden for a pilgrimage to Rome. Her daughter Katharina and her two confessors, prior Peter Olofsson of Alvastra and magister Peter Olofsson of Skänninge, accompanied her. During her time in Rome the visions were more frequent, and she became known as a critic of the church and society, both of which were by her estimation in a deplorable state. The heavenly messages she made public called for the exiled pope to return to Rome and act as a role model and spiritual leader; she also criticized many of the worldly potentates and rulers, urging them to abandon what she asserted was unchristian behavior. Her public intervention and involvement as a woman in the larger political arena made Birgitta the focus of controversy. She remained a polarizing personality even after her death. Birgitta spent the years from 1365 to 1367 primarily in Naples, and in 1372 she traveled to the Holy Land, a pilgrimage that lasted until 1373. Birgitta died within a few months after returning to Rome. Her body was initially buried in the church of San Lorenzo in Panisperna, but her daughter Katharina had it translated to Sweden the following year, where it was interred with great pomp in the church at Vadstena. Birgitta was canonized by Boniface IX in 1391.

Bibliographies

The extensive online Birgittine bibliography accessible through the Swedish national cataloguing system LIBRIS, comprising titles from 1888 to circa 2001, is unfortunately no longer maintained. Borgehammar 2003 discusses the literature about Birgitta and her Revelations prior to 1888. Focusing primarily on Syon monastery, Ellen Cope compiled an online bibliography (Research Guide) that also encompasses Birgitta and the Birgittine order in general.

  • Borgehammar, Stephan. “Birgittaliteraturen genom tiderna.” Kyrkohistorisk Årsskrift 103 (2003): 35–54.

    E-mail Citation »

    Borgehammar’s extensive bibliography and commentary covers the editions of the works of Saint Birgitta in Latin and various vernaculars prior to 1888. This article complements the online Birgittine bibliography.

  • Cope, Ellen S. The Syon Abbey Society. Research Guide.

    E-mail Citation »

    The research guide focuses on Syon Abbey; the bibliography also contains entries on the Birgittine Order generally.

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