Bridgettines

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The Bridgettine or Briggittine order. A monastic religious order of Augustinian canonesses founded by Saint Birgitta (Saint Bridget) of Sweden approximately 1350, and approved by Pope Urban V in 1370.

The Bridgettine order was open to both men and women, and was dedicated to devotion to the passion of Jesus. It was a ”double order” each convent having attached to it a small community of canons to act as chaplains, but under the government of the abbess. 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 head house at Vadstena, by lake Vättern, was not suppressed till 1595. By 1515, with significant royal patronage, there were twenty-seven houses, thirteen of them in Scandinavia. Bridgettine houses soon spread into other lands, reaching an eventual total of 80.

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" (Rule).

The nuns were strictly enclosed, emphasising scholarship and study, but the monks were also preachers and itinerant missionaries. The individual monasteries were each subject to the local bishop, and, in honour of the Virgin Mary, they were ruled by an abbess. In England, the famous Bridgittine convent of Syon Abbey at Isleworth, Middlesex, was founded and royally endowed by Henry V of England in 1415, and became one of the richest, most fashionable, and influential nunneries in the country. It was among the few religious houses restored in Mary I’s reign, when nearly twenty of the old community were re-established at Syon in 1557. On Elizabeth’s accession they migrated to the Low Countries, and thence, after many vicissitudes, to Rouen, and finally in 1594 to Lisbon. The community remained in Lisbon, always recruiting their numbers from England, until 1861, when they returned to England. Syon House is now established at Chudleigh in Devon, the only English community that can boast an unbroken conventual existence since pre-reformation times.

Virtually all the other Bridgettine convents were also destroyed during the Reformation.

Today there are three Bridgettine orders, two of women, with convents throughout the world, and another separate order of men.

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