Feast Day: July 23
From age seven on, Bridget had visions of Jesus Christ crucified. Her visions formed the basis for her activity—always with emphasis on charity rather than spiritual favors. Born near Uppsala, Sweden, at fourteen she married into nobility to the Swedish king Magnus II, with whom she had eight children, one who later became Saint Catherine of Sweden.
Bridget was a brilliant visionary, devoted wife and mother, and fearless advocate for reform in the Church. She constantly strove to exert her good influence over Magnus; while never fully reforming, he did give her land and buildings to found monasteries for men and women. After her husband’s death, Bridget dedicated herself to an ascetic and contemplative life. She was a Franciscan tertiary and founded the Order of the Holy Savior (Bridgettines), primarily for women but also for men.
In 1350, a year of jubilee, Bridget braved a plague-stricken Europe to make a pilgrimage to Rome. Although she never returned to Sweden, her years in Rome were far from happy. While churches collapsed from neglect, the pope lived in luxurious exile in Avignon, France. Bridget insisted that only the pope’s presence in Rome could restore moral force to the Church. She joined Catherine of Siena in calling on him to return. (The pope did return, after Bridget’s death.)
Bridget died at Rome after a final pilgrimage to the Holy Land, marred by shipwreck and the death of her son, Charles. The Protestant Reformation eclipsed her fame when most of her monasteries in Scandinavia were destroyed, but a twentieth-century Catholic convert, Mary Elisabeth Hesselblad, helped to revive interests. Today all of Sweden considers Bridget a national heroine. She has become a patron of the ecumenical movement and is commemorated by the Church of England and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Saint Bridget of Sweden, Saint Catherine of Sienna, and Saint Teresa Benedicta (Edith Stein) are named co-patrons of Europe.
In 1992 the future Pope Benedict XVI praised Bridget as Catholic, feminist, and politically engaged, and compared her to the Old Testament prophet Judith, who saved her people from a foreign tyrant as Bridget protected the Church from heresy and schism. Bridget prayed: “Lord, show me the way and make me ready to follow it.”
“She was beautiful in appearance, and was very lovely to behold… No one spoke ill of her, for she feared God with great devotion.” —Judith 8:7-8 (NRSV, Catholic Edition Bible)
Foley, Leonard, O.F.M., and Pat McCloskey, O.F.M. “Saint of the Day.” Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2009.
Gallick, Sarah. “The Big Book of Women Saints.” New York, NY: HarperOne, 2007.
Giorgi, Rosa. “Saints: A Year in Faith and Art.” New York, NY: Abrams Books, 2005.