Saint Birgitta proclaimed Co-Patroness of Europe 1.10. 1999.

Drawing: Saint Birgitta and Europe

The news of the proclamation of Saint Birgitta as Europe’s Patron Saint today came as somewhat of a surprise and earlier than we nuns in Vadstena had expected, although there has been talk about it for some time.

We are very proud and happy that our holy Mother Birgitta (born about 1303, died in Rome 23/7 1373, canonised 7/10 1391) has been chosen as a model and an example for all Christians in Europe. She shares this honour with two other women, Saint Catherine of Siena (born around 1347, died 29/4 1380, canonised 29/6 1461) an Italian who was a member of the Dominican third order, contemporary with Saint Birgitta and like her, an ardent champion for the return of the pope to Rome from his exile in Avignon. Saint Teresia Benedicta of the Cross, better known as Edith Stein, (12/10 1891- 9/8 1942, canonised 11/10 1998) a German-Jewess who converted, became a Carmelite nun and died in a concentration camp during the Second World War, makes up the trio.

These are three women; each of who have had and still has a great influence on their own times as well as ours. Both Birgitta and Catherine had visions and revelations, which have been preserved as they were written down. Edith Stein began as a philosopher, a pupil of the great E. Husserl.

All of these have something in common; first and foremost that they are women and we can quite calmly interpret their nomination as an effort to promote the dignity of woman. They also shared the same care for the Church, for meditation on the meaning of Christ’s death on the cross, and in being great mystics working to safeguard the value of truth in life.

Naturally this is a great honour, not only for our abbey and for our order, but also for Vadstena and Sweden itself, that Birgitta’ s own country receives this mark of respect. It is still too early to speak of any practical consequences of this, but we hope that one of the consequences will be a greater enthusiasm for research in Birgitta’s writings and her order, where there is still much work to be done. It will most surely have an effect on such prosaic things as tourism or rather on what we are more interested in, pilgrimages. Most probably mass media’s interest will be more focused on Sweden and Vadstena. We hope that people will be inspired to study these three new co-patronesses’ qualities and character

We are thankful that it was three women who came into the lime-light as a complement to the three earlier European Patrons, namely Saint Benedict, ‘The Father of Monasticism’ (died 11/6 547) the holy monk, Kyrillos, (826-869) and his brother, the saintly bishop Methodius (815-885), both of whom came from Thessalonike. Saint Birgitta foresaw in the Rule for her order that men and women working together and complementing each other were to live in unity as a large monastic family, in two separate buildings and be like the Virgin Mary in prayer together with the disciples while they awaited the coming of the Holy Spirit those days between the Ascension and the first Whitsun.

Perhaps it is also significant that Saint Birgitta is presented as having a double vocation. First as mother of eight children in a happy marriage and later, when the children were grown up and she had become a widow, she was free to live out her second calling, that of a deeply contemplative woman who received the command from the Lord, telling her to found a new order. But she never saw the foundation and dedication of the monastery in Vadstena, even if she has given a detailed description of it, neither did she ever wear the habit of the order which she has described so circumstantially. She never became a nun and she never saw Sweden again. She remained in Rome until her death in 1373. She had left Sweden in 1349 to spend the Holy Year 1350 in Rome, but never returned.

In Vadstena we nuns have celebrated this great event by going in procession to Saint Birgitta’s reliquary in our former church opposite the new abbey where we live. We have put flowers and a large candle there and prayed in gratitude for Saint Birgitta’s life and work and for our order’s and Europe’s future.

1 October 1999
Saint Birgitta’s Abbey Pax Mariae
Vadstena, Sweden
Mother M.Karin, O.Ss.S.