The Bridgettine or Birgittine Order (formally the Order of the Most Holy Savior, abbreviated as O.Ss.S.) is a monastic religious order of Augustinian nuns, Religious Sisters and monks founded by Saint Birgitta (Saint Bridget) of Sweden in 1344, and approved by Pope Urban V in 1370. There are today several different branches of Bridgettines.
St Bridget's Rule
The original Bridgettine Order was open to both men and women, and was dedicated to devotion to the Passion of Jesus Christ. It was a ”double order” each monastery having attached to it a small community of monks to act as chaplains, but under the government of the abbess.
St Bridget's Rule stipulated:
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 labors 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 nuns were strictly enclosed, emphasizing scholarship and study, but the monks were also preachers and itinerant missionaries. The individual monasteries were each subject to the local bishop, and, in honor of the Virgin Mary, they were ruled by an abbess.
The distinctive part of the Brigittine habit for the women of the Order is the metal crown which they wear called the "Crown of the Five Holy Wounds". It has five red stones, one at each joint, to remember the Five Wounds of Christ on the Cross. The monks wear a red cross with a Eucharistic host at the center on the right breast of their cloak. The Order has its own proper Rite for the Canonical Hours, called the Office of Our Lady.
St. Bridget's granddaughter, Lady Ingegerd Knutsdotter, was Abbess of Vadstena from 1385 to 1403. Upon her death on 14 September 1412, direct descent from St. Bridget became extinct. This opened the medieval concept of "Bridget's spiritual children", members of the Order founded by her, to be her true heirs.
The Order spread widely in Sweden and Norway, and played a remarkable part in promoting culture and literature in Scandinavia; to this is to be attributed the fact that the motherhouse at Vadstena, by Lake Vättern, was not suppressed till 1595 even though the Protestant Reformation had been widespread in Scandinavia. By 1515, with significant royal patronage, there were 27 houses, 13 of them in Scandinavia. Bridgettine houses soon spread into other lands, reaching an eventual total of 80.
In England, the Bridgettine monastery of Syon Abbey at Isleworth, Middlesex, was founded and royally endowed by King Henry V in 1415, and became one of the richest, most fashionable, and influential religious communities in the country until its Dissolution under King Henry VIII. One of the monks of the community, Richard Reynolds, O.Ss.S., was among the first members of the English clergy to be executed as traitors for his refusal to accept the Oath of Supremacy. He was canonized as a martyr by Pope Paul VI in 1970.
Syon Abbey was among the few religious houses restored during Queen Mary I’s reign (1553–1558), when nearly twenty members of the old community were re-established there in 1557. Upon the accession of Queen Elizabeth I and the ensuing conflict between Catholics and the English Crown, the Bridgettine monastic community left England, first for the Low Countries, then, after many vicissitudes, to Rouen in France, and finally, in 1594, to Lisbon, the capital of Portugal. The community remained in Lisbon (where the last monk of the community died), recruiting new members from England, until 1861, when they returned to England.
Syon Abbey in Devon continued as the only English religious community that had existed without interruption since pre-Reformation times. In 2004 the surviving medieval books of the monastic library were entrusted for safekeeping to the University of Exeter. Among the texts preserved was the Showing of Love by Julian of Norwich and The Orcherd of Syon, which translated Catherine of Siena's Dialogue. Syon Abbey's Tudor Gatepost in marble, on which parts of St Richard Reynolds' body were placed, was brought by the Sisters into their exile, and then returned with them to England. This was later given to the Church of the Blessed Sacrament in Exeter.
Currently active branches
The medieval branch
The original medieval branch today consists of four independent monasteries:
- Maria Refugie Abbey in Uden, Netherlands
- Syon Abbey in Isleworth, England (closed in 2011)
- Birgittakloster in Altomünster Germany
- Pax Mariae Abbey in Vadstena, Sweden
The Spanish branch
Marina de Escobar founded a Spanish branch in the 1630s, consisting only of nuns, following a slightly modified version of the St Bridget's Rule. It currently consists of four independent monasteries in Spain, four in Mexico and one in Venezuela.
The Swedish branch
The largest branch of the Bridgettines today is the one founded by the Blessed Elisabeth Hesselblad, a nurse, on 8 September 1911 of semi-contemplative Religious Sisters dedicated to providing hospitaltiy for those in need of rest. It was fully approved by the Holy See on 7 July 1940, and currently consists of convents in Europe, Asia and North America. The motherhouse of the Order is located on the Piazza Farnese, close to the Campo de' Fiori, Rome, Italy, the house where Birgitta had once lived. Mother Tekla Famiglietti has been Abbess General of the Order since 1979. As in all their houses, this convent offers accommodation. Protestant services also are held in the crypt, as the Sisters have ecumenical outreach as part of their charism. After the Reformation a printshop was set up to print Swedish-language Catholic works.
Controversy has arisen over the treatment of the Indian women who form a large percentage of the Order. Most houses of the Order support themselves by providing bread and breakfast hospitality to guests at standard industry rates. This became public in 2002 when six Indian Sisters from different houses of the Order in Italy fled to a Benedictine monastery, where they were given refuge by the abbot, who was subsequently deposed from office by the Holy See for this, a highly unusual act.
The Brigittine Monks are located in Amity, Oregon, at the Monastery of Our Lady of Consolation. Founded on 16 March 1976, by Brother Benedict Kirby, O.Ss.S., it is the only Brigittine monastery of men in the world and the first since the nineteenth century when they were dispersed, largely due to the European wars. The monks here do not ordinarily receive Holy Orders, following the original pattern of monasticism. The monastery has the canonical status of a priory sui juris (one which is autonomous) and is supported mainly through sales of their chocolate fudges and truffles.
The Most Holy Saviour Fraternity was founded in Mexico on September 14, 2012, and was confirmed by the bishop of the Anglican Diocese of the West, Mexico on August 26, 2013, in the city of San Luis Potosí.
- Brigittine Order, OSV's Encyclopedia of Catholic History, ed. Matthew Bunson, (Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, 2004), 163.
- Franklin Daniel Scott, Sweden, the Nation's History, (Southern Illinois University Press, 1988), 79.
- Frymann, Abigail. "Last nuns of Syon Abbey to sell home", The Tablet, 9 April 2011
- Berry, Jason (March 5, 2013). "Mother Tekla: The Most Powerful Woman in Rome". Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
- Brigittine Monks
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Bridgittines.|
- Bridgettines of Rome, Italy
- Bridgettines of Vadstena, Sweden
- Bridgettines of Tallinn, Estonia
- Bridgettines of Amity, Oregon, USA
- Bridgettines of (Altomünster, Germany
- "Institute of the Brigidines". Catholic Encyclopedia.