St. Bridget (sometimes called Birgitta) was born about the year 1303 (by tradition on June 14th) in Upland, the chief province of Sweden, where her father, Birger, was governor. Her mother, Lady Ingeborg of Finsta, was a daughter of the governor of East Gothland. When only seven Bridget had a vision in which our Lady placed a crown on her head, and when ten, after a sermon on the Passion, she saw in a dream Christ wounded and bleeding. These two experiences seem to have been the formative ones of her life.
Her mother died in 1314, and she lived with an aunt until, in 1316, obediently but against her inclination, she married Ulf Gudmarsson. They had four boys and four girls. Two of the boys died young; Karl, the eldest, was worldly but devoted to our Lady; Birger, the second, though married, later became his mother’s companion and brought her body home to Sweden from Rome to be buried. Three of the girls married: Merita and Cecilia staying in Swedish society, while Catherine lost her husband and lived with her mother; the fourth, Ingebord, became a Cistercian.
Twenty-eight years after their marriage, Ulf died and Bridget went to live the penitential life she longed for near the Cistercian monastery at Alvastra. While three, she planned the Rule and Office of the order she was called to found but which she never saw in existence. After two years, in 1344, she went to Rome, where she died on July 23rd, 1373. Her canonization took place only eighteen years later, on October 7th, 1391.
St. Bridget had the gift of prophecy and worked many marvellous cures. Once widowed, she lived an ascetic life, eating very little, sleeping short hours, and praying continually. She followed a strict rule and practiced every possible kind of charitable work, even reducing herself to begging. She received constant inspirations which were either taken down by her chaplain and put into Latin, thus becoming known as her ‘Revelations,’ or took the form of letters to the succeeding popes, cardinals, and secular rulers of the day, telling them of their wickedness and how to reform their lives. Both in Sweden and in Rome she was either hated violently or loved as a saint. ‘Strong and full of courage,’ she was ‘homely and kind and had a laughing face.’
The Bridgettine order of nuns no longer has monks attached to it. There are twelve convents at the present time, Syon Abbey in Devonshire being the only religious house in England to have unbroken organic continuity since before the Reformation. All Bridgettines pray for the restoration of the mother house at Vadstena in Sweden, which really started after St. Bridget’s death but with her daughter, St. Catherine of Sweden, as first abbess. It was under the patronage of the bishop who had once been tutor to her sons, a circumstance she foretold years before. The Bridgettines cultivate a special devotion to our Lady and to the Passion of Christ, thus stemming naturally from the childhood visions and the whole life of their foundress.