Saint Catherine of Vadstena [Sweden] – March 24

Saint Catherine of Sweden
Saint Catherine of Sweden
Catherine of Sweden, born Katarina Ulfsdotter (c. 1331 - Vadstena, 24 March 1381), was a Swedish religious of the Order of the Most Holy Savior. Proclaimed a saint by Pope Innocent VIII in 1484.


Saint Catherine (Karin) was born in 1331 on the farm Ulvåsa in Östergötland in Sweden as the fourth of Saint Bridget's and to the Lord of Närke Ulf Gudmarsson's eight children. She grew up on her parents' farm Ulvåsa When she was around 4-5 years old, her mother was called to serve with the king, with whom she was related. Bridget took her young son Gudmar with her, while the other children were left in various monasteries. Catherine and her younger sister Ingeborg were sent to the Cistercian nuns in Riseberga in Närke, where they received some education. Ingeborg later entered this monastery, and she is also honored among the Church's saints.

In the grief after Gudmar's death, and with an awareness that the court was becoming more and more worldly and extravagant, Ulf and Bridget decided to leave, stating it had been their desire to make a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Catherine, who showed no inclination toward a religious life, was transferred to the Dominican convent in Skänninge, where her younger sister Cecilia already resided, until their parents returned. Yet when they did return home, it was not as Catherine might have imagined, thinking they were to rebuild their family lives together. Ulf by this time had become a very ill man, he pleaded for God to postpone his demise and spend his remaining days within the walls of a monastery. He was received at Alvastra, where he arranged a marriage for Catherine just before he died in 1344. 

At the age of 14, she was married to the rich and distinguished Egard (Eggard) Lyderson van Kyren, who was of German descent and was disabled all her life. He was very fond of Catherine and would follow her anywhere. Inspired by the ideal of chastity of the time, she persuaded him to marry in celibacy. Although at this time she had not yet been ready to become a nun, she suggested to both of them a life that could hardly be distinguished from a monastic life. They fasted and prayed, dressed and ate with restraint and slept on the floor. Riseberga may have given Catherine a Cistercian structure that she built upon according to her own interests, but it was her mother's influence that was overwhelming. Catherine longed for the holiness of her mother, whom she loved deeply and admired.

Meanwhile, Bridget herself was led away from family affairs and to the further life of the Church. After Ulf's death, she gave away much of what she owned and went to the monastery Alvastra, where she got a room. Wearing the costume of a Franciscan Tertiary, she began to lead an extremely ascetic life. Guided by her almost daily visions of Christ and his Mother, her focus was on Rome, the center of Christendom, but first she wanted to found a monastery in Sweden. The foundation stone was laid in Vadstena in 1346, and it was said that the rule was dictated to her in a vision. After a short period at the court, Bridget traveled to Rome in 1349. Her task was first and foremost to get the pope to return to Rome and then secure papal approval and confirmation of her own founding in Vadstena.

After her father died and her mother went to Rome, Catherine mourned deeply, and for a long time she never smiled, as she herself later told Saint Catherine of Siena. Her brother Karl found her tense and tried in vain to convince his brother-in-law about it. (Charles died in Naples, where Bridget with her intercessors achieved his conversion). But Catherine was filled with an almost irrational longing to be with her mother, and was happy to respond to the pope's invitation to Christianity to visit Rome in the jubilee year 1350. Egard was already ill, but he was always willing to please her and encouraged her. her to travel.

When Catherine and some friends arrived in Rome, Bridget was on a mission in a Benedictine monastery in northern Italy. However, Bridget's confessor Peter Olovsson of Skänninge met Catherine and her traveling companion in St. Peter's Church and took them to Bridget. After doing away with the prescribed visits to the basilicas to achieve the anniversary indulgence, Catherine became already after a few weeks eager to return home to Sweden. Bridget was persuaded to become "for Christ's sake", and although Catherine loved her husband "higher than her own body", she allowed herself to be persuaded, supported by a revelation Bridget received about her son-in-law's death. And when the news of the man's death came shortly after, Catherine decided to stay with her mother.

However, the new life led the 19-year-old widow Catherine into a depression. She was homesick and also suffered from loneliness in Rome. She struggled to adapt to the situation, which was by no means as clear to her as to her mother, because in one of her visions Bridget had been promised that she would have a companion who could support her in her work. Since Rome in the 14th century was a busy place, Bridget did not allow her to go out, which did not help the depression. Young and beautiful as Catherine was, she had been the victim of assaults and many marriages by Roman nobles, which she rejected. To keep the suitors at a distance, but also out of humility, she wore ragged and shabby clothes. While Bridget and her confessor visited the churches, Catherine therefore lived a life of loneliness, poverty and self-denial. At night she often got up and put a blanket under her mother's back, because Bridget slept right on the bare floor.

Catherine felt like a prisoner and longed for home to the cool pine forests and the clean, clear rivers of Sweden, and said to herself that there her brothers and sisters were able to serve God in peace. One night Bridget returned to the house after wasps and found Catherine in a rebellious mood. Bridget asked what was wrong, but her daughter did not answer. That same night she had a dream where the Virgin Mary is said to have given her a scolding sermon: “You asked me to help you, but how can I do that when all you want is to go back to Sweden? You are not faithful to your promise to God. Catherine immediately promised to do everything that was demanded of her. Mary replied, "Listen to your father-in-law and to your mother."

The next day, Catherine submitted to her mother, but Bridget was afraid of destroying her daughter and hesitated to accept her vow of obedience. She had to hand it over to Peter of Skänninge, their confessor. The fight went on for a while, but finally came the day when Catherine felt that she had overcome all reluctance to do what was required of her.

It is not easy to see specifically what was required of Catherine, since her entire existence was to be absorbed in her mother's calling, and even that lacks clear features. Judging by their activities, their task seemed primarily to be intercession for the pope to return to Rome. Many hours each day were set aside for visits to the Roman basilicas and other churches, but many hours were also spent in solitary prayer. Contact with the city's leading families served to bring them back to a sense of Christian morality, which was of long-term value to pave the way for the restoration of the city's Christian character, while caring for the sick took time and resources. There is no evidence for the tradition that Catherine as her mother was a Franciscan Tertiary, but their personal lives were characterized by extreme poverty and severe asceticism. They were even forced by their own poverty to beg alms to support their household. In addition, Bridget conducted extensive correspondence with popes and clergy, encouraged by her almost daily visions.

Despite being sucked up by her mother's activities, Catherine was by no means a blueprint of Bridget. Her total self-destruction points to another type of spirituality that was almost the opposite of that of her mother. They shared the same goals, the same ideals and often also the same means in the end, but Catherine obviously did not go the way of visionary familiarity with the supernatural world. She left no revelations, no accounts of supernatural expressions or of ecstasies she had experienced. She was not asked to bring any message to anyone else. Her path seemed to be one of a deep faith supported by tireless prayer and self-sacrifice.

For almost a quarter of a century she stood by her mother's side, following her everywhere on her daily rounds or on pilgrimages outside Rome. She shared Bridget's brief joy when Pope Urban V (1362-70) returned to Rome from Avignon. Bridget was then granted an audience and presented her rule for approval, which was only partially granted. However, the pope was soon back in Avignon, where he died shortly after. Before leaving Rome, Bridget urged him to stay, threatening that if he returned to Avignon, he would die soon after, for betraying the Mother Church. Bridget should not experience that Pope Gregory XI (1370-78) returned to Rome, nor should she feel the pain of the Great Schism (1378-1417), even though she foresaw it. She and Catherine made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1372/73 and spent some time in Naples on their way there. After their return, Bridget became ill and died in Rome on July 23, 1373.

It fell to Catherine to organize and lead the triumphant repatriation of her mother's earthly remains back to Sweden. She waited for several weeks before one of her mother's advisers, Alfonso de Vadaterra, returned to Rome from Avignon before setting off with her brother Birger and close friends. In the presence of Vadaterra and a large crowd, the coffin was opened. The strong scent that the relics sent out put Catherine in a moving state and talked about her mother whom no one had heard her speak before. Her inspired speeches continued throughout the journey back to Sweden, and she even began to give prelates advice about their behavior - just as her mother had done. In Linköping, they were received by an old friend, her home teacher from childhood, Saint Nils Hermansson. He had just been elected bishop, but with opposing candidates, and was therefore in a deep depression. Catherine tore him out of it and ordered him to think of his pin. It gave him the strength to visit the pope in Avignon, to have his choice of bishop confirmed, and to take action. He became a pious and strong bishop and died in the glory of holiness.

They arrived in Vadstena on July 4, 1374, and were received with jubilation by the brothers and sisters who had already begun a monastic life there after Pope Urban V's (1362-70) approval of the rule of order in 1370. Catherine currently had no other desires than to retreat to the monastery in Vadstena. She asked to be hired as a novice in the community, but she was proclaimed abbess by public support, and she took over the management without further formalities. According to Bridget's will, there should be two communities, each with its own clause: one community for a maximum of 60 nuns and another for a maximum of 25 monks. It was primarily the nunnery that was in question. The abbess was in charge of it all, but with Peter of Skänninge as general confessor and spiritual superintendent of the monks. These were to take care of the services and pastoral care. The church was to be common and open to lay people, but with grids so that the three categories could travel freely without coming into contact with each other. The song should be without organ, simple and dignified. In the few months she spent in Vadstena, Catherine tried to get the community on its feet, materially and spiritually.

Bishop Nils Hermansson of Linköping now began to keep records of the miracles that happened at Bridget's grave. The Swedish hierarchy sought to have Bridget canonized, and they turned to Catherine and asked her to present this request to the Holy Father. In the spring of 1375, Catherine traveled to Rome for the second time. She brought with her written testimony about services that had been granted at Bridget's intercession. Pope Gregory XI was not yet in Rome, so Catherine went to Naples to gather more testimonies from those who had met Bridget there before. The pope came to Rome in January 1377, and Catherine received her audience. Her two requests were left to a commission, which proposed canonization.

But Gregory XI died before anything could be done. Pope Urban VI (1378-89) was elected his successor, but his harsh behavior led to the election of a counter-pope, Clement (VII). Catherine had an audience with Urban VI in full consistory, and she was so eloquent that the pope exclaimed: "My child, you have indeed been nourished by your mother's milk!" Urban did a lot for the community in Vadstena and confirmed one of his predecessors' decision that Augustine's rule, modified by Bridget's own rule, should be followed, and he secured many privileges for the community. On December 3, 1378, Pope Urban VI (1378-89) ratified the constitutions of the Order of Bridgettine (Ordo Sanctissimi Salvatoris - OSSS) and allowed their use in any daughter monasteries.

But with Bridget's canonization, things went slower. The case was taken up again, but the pope did not act. It was during this time that Catherine met Saint Catherine of Siena, who, like Bridget, was given the task of bringing the papacy back to Rome. The pope had planned for the two women to travel together to Queen Johanna of Naples to get her to withdraw her support for the opposing pope Clement, but the Swedish Catherine refused to take on what she saw as a hopeless task. She is also credited with revelations, for example she learned about King Magnus Eriksson's death in Norway six weeks before the news reached Sweden, and miracles are also said to have happened on this second trip to Italy.

Catherine had to stay in Rome for five years and she herself participated in her mother's canonization process with detailed testimonies, but the church political unrest delayed the process until 1391, so she did not get to experience it. In 1380 she had to go home, after her resources had been depleted. Her mother's case was now complete, and now the rest was up to the pope. She returned to Vadstena in July 1380. She was already seriously ill and could not receive the Holy Communion due to vomiting. She died on March 24, 1381. Candles were lit over her body and countless candles both before and after the coffin when she was carried to the tomb, but those who carried the candles were invisible. Three bishops performed the burial when she was buried in the monastery's Blue Church next to her mother, and miracles also happened at her grave.

On October 7, 1391, Bridget was canonized by Pope Boniface IX (1389-1404). Unlike Bridget, there was no discussion about Catherine. Some have noticed the fragmentary nature of Catherine's life; even though she was married, her marriage was not consummated; at the death of the man she could not be with him; as a nun, she did not manage to get dressed in the vestments or make the vows; as abbess she took office without election, and she died before the solemn inauguration of the monastery in 1384, nor did she experience her mother's canonization. It was something almost symbolic in that she also had to die without being able to receive the traveling bread. But she appears as the young, innocent girl who gave her life to God, persevered in sacrifice and faithfulness and after Bridget's death proved to be a capable and energetic abbess, who managed to shape the monastic and nun community of the monastery in the first basics. year. It was said that "Catherine Ulfsdatter is one of the purest and most self-denying figures in Swedish history".

Catherine's biography was written by the monk Ulf Birgersson at Vadstena monastery in the early 15th century, 30 years after her death, on the basis of the monastery's oral tradition. She was canonized in 1484 by Pope Sixtus IV (1471-84) by her cult being approved for Sweden, and she was shelved on August 1, 1489. She is publicly honored in the Nordic countries and the Bridgettine monasteries. Her memorial day is August 2nd. In some places she remembers her day of death on March 24. Her name was inscribed in the Martyrologium Romanum, but no formal canonization apparently ever took place. Vadstena still exists as a convent, but monks no longer exist. Daughter monasteries were established in several countries, first in Denmark.

Catherine is depicted as a Bridgettine nun or abbess with a lantern in her right hand and a book in her left hand or as a pilgrim with a reliquary. In images, she is protected by a deer, and this comes from an incident where she was attacked by a Roman nobleman, but was saved from his love-sick approaches by a deer. Sometimes she is depicted with a hind under the cloak. This refers to a time when she was out hunting with her husband, when a hind that was chased by dogs, sought refuge under her cloak and was rescued. Some images show her worshiping the holy hostie, whom she could not receive on her deathbed. She is being called for an abortion, perhaps because of her chaste life.


Attwater (dk), Attwater / John, Attwater / Cumming, Farmer, Bentley, Butler (III), Benedictines, Delaney, Bunson, Kaas, Engelhart, Schauber / Schindler, Gorys, Dammer / Adam, KIR - 

Compilation and translation: fr. Vincenzo Ginex- Last updated: 2021-03-24 12:46

Saint Bridget of Sweden


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