Lecture by Unn Falkeid, Author and Professor of History of Ideas, University of Oslo
Introduced by Norwegian Ambassador to Ireland, Mari Skåre Q&A
Saint Birgitta of Sweden
The visionary Saint Birgitta of Sweden (1303–1373) was a Nordic noblewoman who chose to pursue a sacred calling and break away from the life that had been staked out. When she was widowed, after having given birth and raised eight children, she travelled to Rome, where she soon established herself as one of the leading figures and bravest voices of her time. From Rome she put both European monarchs and clerks in place. Her main mission was to convince the pope to return home from his French exile and to restore Rome as the center of Christianity. She was known as “The Swedish Widow” and left behind a monastic order in addition to the largest authorship ever written by a woman by that time. She was canonized after her death and is today celebrated as Europe’s patron saint.
Although never mentioned in Birgitta’s Celestial Revelations, Saint Brigid of Kildare was undeniably an important model for the Swedish widow. Birgitta would have known the Irish saint as it was monks from Ireland who brought Christianity to Sweden. In addition to legends and the long history of reception, which not rarely associate the two saints from the edge of Europe, also a series of other factors connect them: They both came from influential families and were powerful women of their time. They both established double monasteries, with men and women forming a joint community, and they both have a prominent place on the Norwegian runic calendar.
Unn Falkeid is Professor of History of Ideas at the University of Oslo. Her research focuses on Renaissance humanism and book history, apocalyptic and utopian visions in late medieval and early modern Europe, and women’s contribution to the history of knowledge. Her books include the critically acclaimed and award-winning monograph The Avignon Papacy Contested: An Intellectual History from Dante to Catherine of Siena (Harvard University Press, 2017), and the edited or co-edited volumes, Sanctity and Female Authorship in the 14th Century and Beyond: Birgitta of Sweden and Catherine of Siena (Routledge, 2020), The Cambridge Companion to Petrarch (Cambridge University Press, 2015), and Rethinking Gaspara Stampa in the Canon of Renaissance Poetry (Routledge, 2015). Her latest book, Den hellige Birgitta. Enken som utfordret Europa (Saint Birgitta. The Widow who challenged the Powers in Europe), is written for a broader audience and was published in 2021.
Programme part of Brigit 2022: Dublin City Celebrating Women, a Dublin City Council initiative.