Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Friday, 23 July 2010

St Bridget of Sweden

Today is the feast of St Bridget of Sweden (d. 1373).

She interests me for a number of reasons. She is very much a product of the late medieval church, very much of "my period". Eamon Duffy's The Stripping of the Altars gives an idea of her popularity in fifteenth and early sixteenth century England. Some relics of her were presented by a fifteenth century Yorkshireman resident in Oriel, Thomas Gascoigne, to Osney Abbey - a proverbial stone's throw from where I live. I have visited the grounds of Syon Abbey in Devon, that remarkable and profoundly moving survivor of medieval piety - the one English community to survive the reformation, having been founded by King Henry V in 1415-20. A website about the abbey is here.

She is probably better known today than for several centuries. Most of her original Order's foundations werecasualties of the reformation era, and it has been in the twentieth century that the new Order, established by Bl. Elizabeth Hasselblad has prospered and made a great contribution to the work of the Church. It is to this community that Sr Mary Richard Beauchamp Hamborough, an English woman, whose cause is being promoted by the Order, belonged. There are some details here.

Alongside that are still those houses with a continuous history, such as Syon, from the age of St Bridget, and also, I undertand an American group who have revived the order for men, as well as women, as was the original scheme of the foundress.

I am reproducing John Dillon's post for today in his 'Saints of the Day' series from the Medieval Religion discussion group, slightly edited. I think life is too short to convert all the addresses to links!

"Bridget (Birgitta) was the daughter of an important Swedish family. She was married when she was about the age of fourteen. One of her eight children was St. Catherine of Sweden (or of Vadstena; 24. March). After her husband's death in 1344 Bridget lived as a penitent near the Cistercian monastery at Alvastra and in 1346 she entered the newly founded double monastery at Vadstena (endowed for her by King Magnus II, whose Queen she had once served at court as a lady in waiting). There Bridget established her Order of the Most Holy Saviour (a.k.a. the Brigittine Sisters), whose rule was confirmed in 1370. In 1349 she moved to Rome, where she continued to record the visions and revelations that she had been receiving since childhood and where she worked tirelessly for the improvement of the Church and for the return of the papacy from Avignon.

Bridget's daughter St. Catherine brought her body back to Vadstena in 1374. Bridget was canonized in 1391. She is the patron saint of Sweden and now, since John Paul II's pontificate a patron saint of Europe. Herewith two views of her putative relics, preserved together at Vadstena with those of Catherine:
http://www.sanctabirgitta.com/media/331.jpg and http://tinyurl.com/3xphp57
Bridget's supposed cranium there is apparently not hers:
http://tinyurl.com/2734gpp and http://tinyurl.com/38mlezs

Bridget in an altar painting of ca. 1485 said to be in Salems kyrka (Stockholms län):
I haven't seen that painting in recent photos of the altar area and wonder if it is not now in a museum.
Bridget at left (Catherine at right) in an altar painting of ca. 1500 said to be in Högsby kyrka (Kalmar län): http://tinyurl.com/2beecf
Bridget at right (St. Hemming at left) in an altar frontal of ca. 1500 said to be at Urjala (Swedish: Urdiala) in southern Finland: http://tinyurl.com/lkc72r

A late medieval cult statue of Bridget (ca. 1475) from an altarpiece formerly in Sollentuna kyrka (Stockholms län), now in the Historiska Museet in Stockholm: http://tinyurl.com/my3emr
This page of expandable views of fifteenth-century statues in Borgs kyrka in Norrköpings kommun (Östergötlands län) includes several views of one of Bridget: http://tinyurl.com/n7fxox
The first image on this illustrated, Swedish-language page on Bridget is a view of a fifteenth-century statue of Bridget formerly in Törnevalla kyrka in Törnevalla (Östergötlands län) and now in the Historiska Museet in Stockholm:
http://historiska-personer.nu/manadensperson.htm A detail view of the upper part of that statue: http://tinyurl.com/l3v2n9

Another statue of Bridget, no longer holding the pen and the book that are her recurring attributes, formerly in the same church and now also in the Historiska Museet in Stockholm:
If you go again to: http://mis.historiska.se/mis/sok/fid.asp?fid=94092
and click on the tag "Heliga Birgitta" (at upper right) you should get a page of thumbnail links to many other such statues and to views of some pilgrim badges from Vadstena.
A better view of a Vadstena pilgrim's badge: http://www.sanctabirgitta.com/media/120.jpg

A view of Vadstena abbey church, consecrated in 1430, in today's Vadstena kommun (Östergötlands län): http://tinyurl.com/2e8mlc
A couple of views of the originally mid-thirteenth-century King's Palace at Vadstena, given to the monastery in 1346, remodeled for the nuns' use, used for other purposes after the monastery's abandonment at the end of the sixteenth century, and restored in the 1950s (the site is now a museum): http://tinyurl.com/yvyer5 and http://tinyurl.com/2ba4xk
An illustrated, Swedish-language page on the history of the abbey:
An embroidered fifteenth-century reliquary from the abbey church, now in the Historiska Museet in Stockholm: http://tinyurl.com/nga6gz

After her canonization Bridget's childhood church at Skederid in Norrtälje kommun (Stockholms län) became a pilgrimage site. It was expanded in the fifteenth century and has since been greatly modified. Here's an expandable view showing its fifteenth-century portal:

The monastery at Alvastra in today's Ödeshögs kommun (Östergötlands län) in whose vicinity B. lived just prior to her going to Vadstena was founded in 1143. It is now a ruin. Herewith illustrated, English-language and Swedish-language pages on the site and some other views:
More of the church was still standing in ca. 1700 (the engraving is from Erik Dahlberg's _Svecia Antiqua et Hodierna_): http://tinyurl.com/34bg5kn "

Other relics, such as her cup and mantle are preserved in Rome.

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