Lady Birgitta Birgersdotter (ca 1303–1373), Saint Birgitta of Sweden, was born and lived in an environment with noble ideals and with extensive international contacts. She was a wife and mother of eight, and a lady at the court of king Magnus Eriksson and Magistra to Queen Blanche of Sweden. Lady Birgitta was a traveller and a pilgrim. As a widow, she chosed the spiritual life not by retreat to a nunnery, but by leaving the country with the aim of founding a new monastic order. Birgitta and her large entourage began the journey to Rome in 1349.
Her background in the highest nobility, and a courtly culture that she highly esteemed, is reflected in her revelations. I will argue that this courtliness is also communicated in the use of imagery in Vadstena monastery the years around 1400. But pictures were not without its problems, as will become apparent in another example in the very same context.
The Revelations were written down in Latin and in Old Swedish from the 1340s in Sweden to her death in Rome in July1373. Saint Birgitta had reason to reflect on issues like desire not only from her own private perspective, but also because her Revelations in the end formed the basis for an international monastic order. On the one hand there were bodily desires that should be mastered, on the other there was a religious desire for God.
The revelations were widely spread. During the canonization to en elite among the clergy, kings and noblemen and later they were used in the Birgittine convents, and quoted in innumerable sermons and spread to cathedrals and the parish churces. Therefore, they can be used when the aim is to highlight the use of imagery and devotional life in the Middle Ages. These texts reached far beyond the scholarly and monastic environment.
This paper focuses on expressions of the ambivalent relationship as indicated above. My intention is to highlight the often complex relation between text and image, and to include adopting of form between secular and spiritual imagery in the discussion. As desires involves feelings, I will pay attention to expressions of the senses. The question is if and how the presumed ambivalence between worldly and spiritual, is evident in the Revelations and imagery in Vadstena? What visual codes were used? How was imagery used, and what attitudes towards imagery can we trace through text and images?
Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013, 500. 235-252 p.