Saint Bridget of Sweden
There is no sinner in the world, however much at enmity with God, who cannot recover God's grace by recourse to Mary, and by asking her assistance.
-Saint Bridget of Sweden
Saint Bridget (heliga Birgitta) is a Catholic Saint and mystic and is considered one of the six patron saints of Europe (Along side Saint Benedict, Saint Cyril, Saint Methodius, Saint Catherine of Siena and Saint Edith Stein).
Saint Bridget was born in 1303 AD (the exact date has been lost) in Uppland, Sweden. Her father, Knight Birger Persson (Finstaatten) of the family of Finsta was one of the richest landowners in the country and served as governor and lawspeaker of Uppland when she was born. Her mother, Ingeborg Bengtsdotter, was a member of the Lawspeaker branch of the Folkunga family. Through her mother, Saint Bridget was directly related to several of the Kings of Sweden. At the age of only 10, Saint Bridget began experiencing visions, the most notable was that of Jesus hanging upon the cross. When she asked him who had done this to him, he replied to her:
They who despise me, and spurn my love for them.
This first vision so moved her that she immediately placed the Passion of Christ directly into the center of her spiritual life. At fourteen she was married to Ulf Gudmarsson of the family of Ulvasa, Lord of Narke. In total she would bear eight children with him, four daughters and four sons but only six survived infancy. Several of her daughters would be notable - her oldest, Marta Ulfsdotter, served as head of the court of Queen Margaret, her second daughter was Saint Catherine of Sweden and her youngest was Cecilia Ulvsdotter.
Throughout Sweden Saint Bridget quickly became known for her holiness and many works of charity, especially for the unwed mothers and their daughters throughout the land. In 1344, after a pilgrimage with her husband to Santiago de Compostela, her husband died. When she returned home she chose to enter into religious life and became a member of the Third Order of Saint Francis so that she could devote herself to a life of prayer and caring. As her visions increased and spiritual life continued to mature, Saint Bridget began to develop the idea of forming a religious community. This community, known as the Order of the Most Holy Savior (commonly known as the Brigittines) lived in double monasteries and chose to give all surplus income to the poor and needy.
Mary is the lily in God's garden. - Saint Bridget
Saint Bridget and her daughter Saint Catherine braved a plague-stricken Europe in 1350 to travel to Rome with a contingent of priests so gain formal authorization for the new Order she had founded. It wouldn't be until 1370 that Pope Urban V confirmed the rule of the Order. While waiting in Rome Saint Bridget fought hard for ecclesiastical reform, a move that was often met with vigorous opposition by corrupted clergy. Many contemporaries of her day recorded that Saint Bridget went to confession every day and had a constant smiling and glowing face. She travelled to Jerusalem and Bethlehem in 1373 sending back instructions to the Order, insisting that an :
"abbess, signifying the Virgin Mary, should preside over both nuns and monks."
Her continued visions of the Nativity of Jesus had a massive influence on the depiction of the Nativity in art works. In one of her famous visions, Saint Bridget saw the infant Jesus lying on the ground, emitting light himself and the Virgin Mary standing over him with blonde hair. Other details often found in art work also came from her visions including a single candle attached to the wall and the presence of God the Father above. In addition to her visions of the Nativity, Saint Bridget also experienced several visions of Purgatory. At one point she predicted an eventual Vatican State and foretold almost the exact boundaries delineated by Mussolini for Vatican City in 1921.
She recorded that one day Jesus came to her in a vision and said to her:
"I received 5480 blows upon My Body. If you wish to honor them in some way, recite fifteen Our Fathers and fifteen Hail Marys with the following Prayers, which I Myself shall teach you, for an entire year. When the year is finished, you will have honored each of My Wounds."
The prayers became commonly known as the "Fifteen Os" as the words in Latin began each prayer with O Jesu, or O Rex, or O Domine Jesu Christe. The prayers became very wide known throughout the Middle Ages and were regularly featured in the Books of Hours. The prayers were also often circulated with various promises of indulgences and assurances of 21 supernatural graces that attended the daily recitation of the 15 orations at least for a year. They included promises of the release from Purgatory of fifteen of the devotee's family members. The belief in the 21 promises were strongly rejected by Martin Luther who began to call Saint Bridget "Die tolle Brigit - the foolish Bridget). In 1954, the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office found the alleged promises unreliable but the prayers themselves were allowed to continue.
Pope Benedict XVI, when speaking of Saint Bridget on October 27th, 2010, told the crowd regarding the value of her revelations being doubted by some was specified by Saint Pope John Paul II in his letter Spes Aedificandi:
"Yet there is no doubt that the Church, which recognized Bridget's holiness without ever pronouncing on her individual revelations, has accepted the overall authenticity of her interior experience."
Saint Bridget never returned to Sweden once she had entered the City of Rome. She died on July 23rd, 1373, and was buried at San Lorenzo in Panisperna before her remains were returned to Sweden. Pope Boniface IX canonized her a Saint in 1391 and the Council of Basel confirmed the orthodoxy of her revelations in 1436. On October 1st, 1999, Saint Pope John Paul II named Saint Bridget a patron saint of Europe. Her feast day was originally inserted into the calendar in 1623 for celebration on October 8th (the date of her canonization) and was moved during the 1969 revision to July 23rd.