“I am the Creator”: Birgitta of Sweden’s Feminine Divine

“I am the Creator”: Birgitta of Sweden’s Feminine Divine

Bruce, Yvonne

Comitatus: A Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 32(1) (2001)


Critical writings about Saint Birgitta of Sweden (1302/3–1373) adopt a curious tone: the literature marvels at her wide-reaching political, ecclesiastical, and secular influence, remarkable for a woman even in an age that saw Saint Catherine of Siena and Julian of Norwich achieve religious authority while maintaining popular appeal. Yet this marvel is checked by hesitation; surely no fourteenth-century mystic could have achieved such authoritative status except as an orthodox agent of the church, and historians have typically been cautious of seeing Birgitta as a forerunner of the Reformation. Ingvar Fogelqvist, for example, is reluctant to “judge the later Middle Ages through the viewpoint of the Protestant Reformation,” yet his own study of “apostasy and reform” in Birgitta’s Revelations reveals the saint’s struggles between old ideas and “new reformatory ones.” Joan Bechtold attributes Birgitta’s articulation of the feminine to “internal struggle, rather than … simple acquiescence” to a masculine ideology, but negates her “feminist victories” by asserting that she “rose to power by defending a system created by men more fervently than did her male counterparts”; a few lines later, Bechtold notes that Birgitta’s aristocratic background partly “explains the restraint she felt towards any subversive visionary or political activity.”

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