Mar 24, 2014

Kit Kat

There are many saints named Catherine in the world of hagiology, like St. Catherine of Alexandria and St. Catherine of Siena. Today is the feast day of another of them, St. Catherine of Vadstena.

Saint Catherine, or Katarina Ulfsdotter, was born in 1332 as the fourth of eight children born to St. Bridget of Sweden and Ulf Gudmarsson, Lord of Ulvåsa. She is best known as the first abbess of the Bridgettine convent at Vadstena and for her devotional work, Consolation of the Soul. 

She is the patron saint of protection against abortion and miscarriage, and generally represented with a hind (female red deer), which is said to have come to her aid "when unchaste youths sought to ensnare her." 

Noli me tangere
At the age of 12, Catherine married Lord Eggert van Kyren, a very religious German nobleman whom she purportedly persuaded to take a vow of absolute chastity. She accompanied her mother to Rome in 1349 (Bridget was on a mission to have her order authorized by the pope). While she was away, her husband died. 

She stayed on in Rome, accompanying Bridget on her travels in Italy and the Holy Land. When Bridget died in 1373, she returned to Vadstena with the body (or what was left of it after the "skelettering" that was carried out to remove the flesh from the bones) on what might be termed the most famous PR road trip of the Middle Ages, since Catherine and her companions visited monasteries on the way to drop off copies of the works of St. Bridget. 

St Catherine of Siena with her hind, from a triptych in Trönö church, Sweden.

Catherine became the head of the Brigittine convent, returning to Rome only to work for her mother's canonization, which took place in 1391. During this time, she befriended St. Catherine of Siena. She died in 1381 and in 1488, her relics were translated to Vadstena. Her canonization was never formally completed because of the Protestant Reformation. 

The Brigittines still run a monastery in Vadstena, though not in the original building. The first building, which was a gift from King Magnus Ericsson, is now a luxury hotel and houses the Convent Museum. The order is contemplative, though nowadays they run a guesthouse. 

Klosterliljor, literally "monastery flowers" or spring snowflake flowers, were brought to Sweden by the first gardener at the Vadstena Abbey. Here, in full bloom near the original monastery in Vadstena.

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