THE BIRGITTA CELEBRATION, 1999
N my research I had been finding strong connections between Julian of Norwich and Birgitta of Sweden through Cardinal Adam Easton, OSB, of Norwich, who was reading the Revelations and writing the defense for Birgitta of Sweden's 1391 canonization in Norwich at the same time that Julian of Norwich was writing her Long Text of her Revelations, in which her contemporary editor quotes directly from Birgitta's Revelations.
Accordingly, when I heard from Scandinavians about the celebrations for St Birgitta and the Holy Year to be held in Rome, I went. Alas, this time the publicity for this event was limited to the Catholics in Rome and Lutherans in Sweden and Finland, unlike the celebration in 1991 which was open to everyone. Seemingly not invited were the original Birgittine Order of the Most Holy Saviour's five houses in England, Holland, Bavaria and Sweden. Nor were the major Birgittine scholars. But the recently-formed Birgittine Brothers from Oregon were, and processed with great candles behind the Pope down the nave of St Peter's.
Nevertheless, it was a fine conference, with
excellent papers on the Jubilee in the Bible, in Birgitta's life
and writings, and today. Present were Lutheran priests and
bishops of both genders, with Catholic clergy, male, and nuns,
and no one got upset. In 1991 one woman priest had been allowed
to be present, a dear motherly elderly sort, with her husband,
likewise a Lutheran priest, and the plethora of deaconnesses.
This year, 1999, no deaconnesses were in evidence. Only one
paper was given by a woman, and it was the final one.
Santa Francesca Romana,
in the Chapel of Tor de' Specchi
The second day, at eight o'clock in the morning, greatly daring, I rang the doorbell of the convent of Santa Francesca Romana, just below the steps of the Ara Coeli, to ask if I could put an essay about their frescoes of the life of their sainted foundress on the Web, and they invited me back at one o'clock. So enclosed is Santa Francesca Romana's convent of Tor de' Specchi that the public may only enter there on two days in the year. As one sister said to me, 'It is not a museum'. The conference over, I came back and was shown everything, Francesca Romana's cell, her chapel, the manger from a Roman sarcophagus for firewood she would give to the poor, her church in restauro. Also, a long talk with their Mother about Birgitta's connection with Francesca, her son being married into Birgitta's landlady's family, the Papazzuri. And I was granted permission. It was like stepping into the frescoes. Francesca, married, with children, started a lay congregation of women, refusing all privileges, paying taxes, working for the poor, and living in clausura, in prayer. Nothing, in five hundred years, has been changed, everything is spotless and gleaming and perfect and all for charity. There are fifteen sisters, still wearing Francesca's simple black habit, white veil, and nothing could be more beautiful.
Then, in the afternoon, I went to Santa Cecilia in Trastevere to see Cardinal Adam Easton's tomb there opposite St Cecilia's, both bodies later found incorrupt. Though the church has been altered, its original apse mosaic is there that Adam Easton would have seen and loved, with this portrait of her,
and beneath it are the baths and Roman buildings Cecilia gave to the Christian community at her death.
We remember how Julian describes Cecilia's three neck wounds:
When they found Cecilia's body in the Catacombs, later than Julian's day, Maderna sculpted it as it was showing the neck wound:
Outside the now Renaissance/Baroque church are still medieval buildings that once would have lodged our Norwich Cardinal and his retinue which, in his Roman Last Will and Testament, included Norwich names, for each Cardinal is given a Roman church, this one being his. Ritamary Bradley believes, from Julian's description of the Veronica Veil, that she had come to Rome, and seen it shown at St Peter's. If she did she most likely came under the protection of the Cardinal from Norwich and knew this place sacred to her beloved St Cecilia, likely staying with the Benedictine nuns here.
Next to a much cleaner St Peter's Basilica, beneath a most beautiful sunset, in broken shoes letting in rain water the day before and tattered clothings. I consoled myself, remembering Birgitta, too, was in rags in Rome. I entered it to receive a still unlit candle for the Vigil of the Great Jubilee of 2000 with Pope John Paul II concelebrating with the Lutheran Archbishops of Uppsala and Turku (Birgitta's Bishop Heming's Åbo), and the Catholic Bishops of Stockholm and Copenhagen, the Cardinals and Bishops of the Roman Curia and other Lutheran and Catholic Bishops from Northern Europe and the King and Queen of Sweden. And, in spirit, I took all of you with me. For this was in honour of Birgitta being proclaimed Co-Patroness of Europe 'for the unity of faith and of the Church', as had been said in Boniface IX's canonization bull 7 October 1391.
St Peter's was in darkness and silence, broken by Pope John Paul II singing 'Deus in adiutorium meum intende . . .'
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Christ, joyful light and splendour of the Father's glory, sheds his light upon our ecumanical assembly. Present in our midst, he unites us all by the grace of the Holy Spirit in this evening prayer. A special ray of his light he shone upon Saint Bridget, radiant woman of the North, wife and mother, foundress of the Most Holy Saviour, whom I recently proclaimed Co-Patroness of Europe, the model of a life of holiness, entirely spent 'for the unity of the faith and of the Church'.Next, the Birgittine sisters lit their candles while singing in Italian and Swedish, 'O luce gioiosa', all processed from the west end to the east, the Pope surrounded by Bishops, all of us lighting our candles as they passed, the Pope only three feet from me and looking far healthier than we see on television, stooped with age, yes, but no more than that, then incense was offered at Peter's Tomb by him. A woman's voice explained beforehand each psalm in Italian and in English, then these were sung by the choir and the people, each also followed by prayers by the ecumenical bishops. Then Apocalypse 21.1-7, was read (I think by the Queen of Sweden) in Swedish (reminding one of Bergman's Seventh Seal reading by Karin, the Knight's wife). The Pope then preached very movingly in English and Italian on Birgitta and her uniting of the Church, 'Ut unum sint', then and now and forever. All kept returning to Birgitta's prayer, 'Lord, show me the way, and make me willing to walk it'. Alas, the choir failed in its singing of the most beautiful 'Rosa rorans bonitatem', especially composed in the Middle Ages for the translation of St Birgitta's body to Sweden. Especially fine was the discourse by the Lutheran Archbishop of Uppsala on the Magnificat, on humility undoing pride. The Pope next prayed,
In our preparation for the Great Jubilee, now rapidly approaching, Bridget, the woman of pilgrimage and of hospitality, immersed in contemplation of the mysteries of Christ goes before us and guides us by her example, that we may worthily celebrate the mystery of the Incarnation by advancing along the way of conversion, prayer and works of charity.
Together with the distinguished prelates and pilgrims who have come from the North of Europe, let us sing joyfully to the Father. May our prayers ascend like fragrant incense, in the unity of our hearts and minds, a sacrifice of praise for our God.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, we have sung the praise of God's mercy, which from generation to generation, in the words of the Mother of the Lord. Let us now invoke Christ, born of Mary, as our Saviour and Redeemer.Prayers were then given in Swedish, Finnish, Danish, Norwegian, Estonian and Polish. Then the Lord's Prayer in Latin was sung by all. Finally, the Pope's concluding prayer in Latin and, together, with the Lutheran Bishops, the great Aaronic Blessing.
This blessings comes from that given at St Peters. Perhaps a bit tattered, but joyously.
Julia Bolton Holloway
Hermit of the Holy Family
22 November 2004
JULIAN OF NORWICH, HER SHOWING OF LOVE AND ITS CONTEXTS ©1997-2017 JULIA BOLTON HOLLOWAY || JULIAN OF NORWICH || SHOWING OF LOVE || HER TEXTS || HER SELF || ABOUT HER TEXTS || BEFORE JULIAN || HER CONTEMPORARIES || AFTER JULIAN || JULIAN IN OUR TIME || ST BIRGITTA OF SWEDEN || BIBLE AND WOMEN || EQUALLY IN GOD'S IMAGE || MIRROR OF SAINTS || BENEDICTINISM|| THE CLOISTER || ITS SCRIPTORIUM || AMHERST MANUSCRIPT || PRAYER|| CATALOGUE AND PORTFOLIO (HANDCRAFTS, BOOKS ) || BOOK REVIEWS || BIBLIOGRAPHY || Originally published, St Ansgar's Bulletin, 96 (April 2000), 9-10.