The Brigittine Order (also, ORDER OF ST. SAVIOUR) was founded in 1346 by St. Brigit, or Bridget, of Sweden at Vadstena in the Diocese of Linköping. The saint, who was canonized twenty years after her death, was a Swedish princess renowned for her piety from her childhood; she was given in marriage to Ulf, Prince of Mercia, by whom she had a large family. Ulf died in 1344, and two years later tradition relates that St. Bridget had revealed to her the rule of the new order she was to found at Vadstena. Here with the help of King Magnus she established on her own estate the first monastery for men and women, of which Katherine, her daughter, became the first Abbess soon after her death in 1375. At this time double monasteries were not unusual: the monks and nuns used the same chapel, but lived in separate wings of the monastery, the confessor alone having access to the nuns. In Brigittine monasteries the nuns, who were strictly enclosed, attended to the cooking, washing, and making and mending of clothes for the monks as well as for themselves, but everything was passed through a turnstile from one wing to the other. This arrangement, unsuitable to modern times, has long ceased.
In the new order the abbess, who was called the "Sovereign", was supreme in all things temporal for both houses; all deeds were in her name, all charters were addressed to her; but in spiritual things the abbess was not allowed to interfere with the monks who were priests, and the nuns were under the direction of the superior of the monks who was appointed confessor-general. The order was founded principally for women, and for this reason the supreme government was vested in the abbess ; the monks were founded to give the nuns the spiritual help they needed. The special interior devotion of the order is to the Passion of Our Lord and to His Blessed Mother.
The Rule enacts "that the number of choir nuns shall not exceed sixty, with four lay sisters; the priests shall be thirteen, according to the number of the thirteen Apostles, of whom Paul the thirteenth was not the least in toil; then there must be four deacons, who also may be priests if they will, and they are the figure of the four principal Doctors, Ambrose, Augustine, Gregory and Jerome, then eight lay brothers, who with their labours shall minister necessaries to the clerics, therefore counting three-score sisters, thirteen priests, four deacons, and the eight servitors, the number of persons will be the same as the thirteen Apostles and the seventy-two disciples ". (The Rule of St Bridget.) The nuns were not to be professed before they were eighteen and the monks not before they were twenty-five years of age. The counsel of holy poverty is strictly enjoined by the Rule on all the members of the order, who are forbidden to possess anything, though at the same time they may expect the abbess to supply them with all necessaries; one luxury is allowed them, they may have as many books as they like for study. All the cast-off clothing and the surplus of their yearly income, after all has been provided for, are to be given to the poor, and the Rule strictly forbids the abbess to make larger buildings than are necessary.
The Constitutions were first approved by Pope Urban V, afterwards by Urban VI, and finally by Martin V. In 1603 Pope Clement VIII made certain changes for double monasteries in Flanders, and in 1622 Gregory XV changed certain articles in the Constitutions which refer only to double convents for the Monastery of Ste. Marie de Foi, in the Diocese of Ypres. These new Constitutions ordained that manual work should be done during certain hours of the day by the members of the order, that a red cross should be worn on the mantle, that the nuns might be professed at the age of sixteen, and that the monks should say the Divine Office according to the Roman Breviary. Those who followed these Constitutions took the name of Brigittines Novissimi of the Order of St. Saviour, to distinguish them from those who lived in double convents.
The order spread into France, Italy, Germany, Bavaria, Poland, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Holland, Belgium, Spain, Portugal and Russia. Four foundations were made in France at Lille, Valenciennes, Arras, and Douai, but all were destroyed in the Revolution. In Belgium several houses were founded, but except that of Dendermonde they did not last very long, and all have now disappeared. The first Italian house was founded in 1394, when the Monastery of Paradiso was opened at the gates of Florence, and about this time some of the monks of the order took up their abode in Rome, in the house in which St. Bridget died. In 1426 a monastery was opened at Genoa, and that same year the order was introduced into Bavaria, where several foundations were made, one of which still remains. This is the celebrated old Benedictine Monastery of Mary Altomünster, between Munich and Augsburg, of which the Brigittines took possession in 1497 establishing a double convent there. This monastery was twice plundered and partially destroyed by fire, and the monks and nuns who were dispersed at the Reformation twice returned to it. In 1803 it was suppressed, and it is only Since 1844 that a community of Brigittine nuns again lives there. The monastery of Revel in Russia was burnt by schismatics in 1575, but in Poland most of the monasteries were preserved till the middle of the sixteenth century, and three new foundations were made. Holland still possesses two Brigittine houses, both of which now take pupils.
At the Reformation most of the double monasteries had to be given up, and the rule as to numbers could no longer be observed, while many of the houses were suppressed altogether. The nuns at Vadstena endured much persecution at this time ; the Protestants threatened to tear them to pieces and expelled them from their monastery, but in 1588, King John III became their protector, and restored their monastery to them. In England the Brigittine Order is the only pre-Reformation order in existence. The celebrated Brigittine Monastery of Syon House was founded in 1415, when Henry V himself laid the foundation-stone on part of the royal manor of Isleworth on the Thames. It is supposed that the cause of the extension of the order in England was due to the fact that Henry's sister Philippa was the wife of Eric XIII, King of Sweden. King Henry endowed the monastery richly and transferred the property of certain houses dependent on French monasteries to Syon. At the dissolution of monasteries under Henry VIII, who in the earlier years of his reign had himself been a benefactor of the abbey, the nuns were dispersed and took refuge in a convent of their order at Dendermonde in Flanders. Here they were visited by Cardinal Pole, and through his influence were re-established at Syon under Queen Mary, but they were driven into exile again when Elizabeth came to the throne, and returned to Dendermonde. After several attempts to settle in different parts of Belgium, they went to Rouen where they remained fourteen years, and finally in 1594, they moved to Lisbon where they remained for 267 years. In 1809 an attempt was made to return to England, but it was not till 1861 that the nuns found a home at Spettisbury in Dorsetshire, whence they moved to Chudleigh in Devonshire in 1887, where they are still living.
The Brigittines of the Recollection were founded at Valladolid in the seventeenth century by Venerable Marina de Escobar, formerly a Carmelite nun, who modified the Rule to suit the Spanish nation and the age in which she lived. The Constitutions were approved by Pope Urban VIII. Like St. Bridget she neither took the habit herself nor did she live to see the first monastery of the order erected. This congregation which has five houses was founded for nuns only, the habit and the office differ slightly from those of the Brigittines.
In all houses of the Brigittine Order prayers are constantly offered for the restoration of the Monastery of Vadstena . This was formerly the great centre and stronghold of Catholicism in Sweden, a place where kings and queens frequently visited, sometimes took refuge, and were occasionally imprisoned, but which was suppressed and the religious dispersed under Gustavus Vasa. Nine Brigittine monasteries are now in existence : Syon Abbey, Chudleigh in Devonshire, Altomunster in Bavaria, Uden and Weert in Holland ; and the five Spanish houses of the Brigittines of the Recollection : Valladolid founded in 1651, Vittoria founded in 1653, Lasarte and Parades de Nava in 1671, and Ascoytia in 1690.
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