The Locus of Truth: Birgitta of Sweden and the Journey to Jerusalem

Fil.dr. Maria Husabø Oen

Birgitta Birgersdotter (1302/3-1373), better known as St. Birgitta of Sweden, was canonized in 1391 because of what she claimed to be revelations received directly from God. Based on these visions, recorded in the work "Revelaciones", Birgitta could act as an agent on the religious and political scene of Europe - a role which was not readily available to women in this period. During the canonization process, when the "Revelaciones" were evaluated in order to decide if Birgitta truly did possess divine knowledge and would thus merit sainthood, the visionary's pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1372 received particular attention. Several of Birgitta's supporters testifying in the trial pointed to her presence at the very places were Christ had been born and died when she received visions as a proof of their authenticity. How should we understand the connection between physical places and divine knowledge made here? Although Birgitta's travels have been explored to some extent, the significance of her visit to Jerusalem for her claims to divine insight, as well as for the process of establishing her sanctity and thus her authority as a theological agent have not been explored before. The sources pertaining to Birgitta offer a unique possibility to study how medieval pilgrims experienced the shrines in the geographical and religious centre of Christianity, but also to understand how particular physical places could serve as a criterion of truth and as rhetorical assets in the theological debates of the period. In this project, relevant texts and images will be investigated in order to explore how, and according to what conception of reality and knowledge, the experience of certain sites and buildings could confirm that Birgitta had supernatural insight. The results of the project will shed new light on the strategies of legitimization employed in order to authenticate Birgitta's visions and thereby also her role as a female theologian and politician in the Middle Ages.

Uppdaterad: 2 April, 2019

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