Post-classical history

Birgitta Birgersdotter (1302/1303-1373)

Swedish mystic and founder of the Birgittine Order, also known as St. Bridget of Sweden, who persuaded King Magnus II Eriksson of Sweden to launch a crusade against Russia.

Birgitta was born into a wealthy noble family in Finsta near Uppsala and in 1316 married Ulf Gudmarsson. In 1341-1342 Birgitta, by now the mother of eight children, went with her husband on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. At the town of Arras, they were inspired by a vision to take mutual vows of chastity. In 1344 Ulf died at the Cistercian monastery of Alvastra in East Gotland, and Birgitta started her early monastic experience. She repeatedly received prophetic and mystical visions of Jesus, among which was a complete rule for a new monastic order, known as the Rule of the Savior. The main task of this new order was the reform of Christianity and of the church itself. Birgitta was involved in the reform movement in Sweden until 1349 and then moved to Italy, where she resided until her death (23 July 1373), trying to persuade ecclesiastical and lay officials of the need for church reform. In 1370 Pope Urban V confirmed the rule, and the mother house of the order was established in Valdstena, Sweden. Birgitta was canonized on 7 October 1391 by Pope Boniface IX.

The revelations of St. Birgitta were written down by her confessors, Peter Olofsson of Alvastra and Peter Olofsson of Skonninge, and later translated from Swedish into Latin and revised in 1378 by Alfonso Pecha de Vadaterra, bishop of Jaén (1359-1368). Chapter 2 of book 8 dealt with the moral obligations of a Christian ruler and directly influenced King Magnus II Eriksson of Sweden (1319-1363), who led an ill-fated crusade to the Neva region in 1348. A year previously, on Bir- gitta’s instructions, he invited the representatives of the Orthodox Novgorodian clergy to discuss theological issues. The Novgorodians, however, suggested that only the patriarch of Constantinople was able to discuss such topics and refused to accept the Roman Catholic form of Christianity. Magnus invaded Karelia and started to baptize its inhabitants. He subsequently received bulls from Pope Clement VI that authorized him to fight against the still pagan Karelians and Izhori- ans as well as against Orthodox Russians. Although Magnus managed to capture the important fortress of Noteborg, the Swedes were forced to retreat in 1350, without having converted the pagan Karelians and Izhorians or brought about a reunification of the Orthodox Novgorodians with the Roman Catholic Church.

St. Birgitta had greater success in establishing double monasteries (for monks and nuns) for her order, which spread through Scandinavia, Estonia, Poland, Germany, Holland, and Italy.

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