The Abbey of Our Lady and of St. Bridget, more commonly referred to as Vadstena Abbey, was the motherhouse of the Bridgettine Order. The abbey started on one of the farms donated to it by the king, but the town of Vadstena grew up around it. The abbey was founded in 1346 by Saint Bridget with the assistance of King Magnus IV of Sweden and his Queen Blanche of Namur, who made a will donating ten farms to the abbey founded by Bridget.
The abbey was a double monastery, with both a male section of 25 monks and a female section of 60 nuns. The monks were organised under the General Confessor and the nuns under a prioress, while the abbey as a whole was organised under an Abbess, who was elected by both the monks and the nuns. The abbey was greatly favored by the royal house and nobility and became the spiritual center of the country as well as the greatest landowner in Sweden. The abbey was known to manage a hospital and retirement home, which is recorded from 1401.
Vadstena Abbey also had international fame as the motherhouse of all the monasteries of the Bridgettine Order, such as Reval, Nådendal, Bergen and Danzig. It kept in contact with other monasteries, performed inspections of them and sent both nuns and monks to them when they were lacking in members. In 1406, for example, an English delegation arrived asking for members in order to establish a Bridgettine monastery in England, and in 1415, four nuns, three female novices, one monk and one priest left the abbey under great celebrations for the foundation of what became the famed Syon Abbey.
After the introduction of the Reformation in Sweden in 1527, monastic communities in Sweden were effectively ended by the ban against accepting new novices. The existing members were allowed to stay until their death, to be supported by an allowance from the former property of the monastery, or to leave if they wished. Vadstena Abbey, however, was exempted from this ban and allowed to accept novices even after the Reformation, though only by special permission from the monarch. This regulation was directed to Bishop Hans Brask by King Gustav Vasa in 1527 after an elopement by a novice the previous year.
In 1549, the majority of the monks were ordered to leave the abbey. In 1550, the nuns were moved to the smaller part of the abbey, the wing previously belonging to the monks, and in 1555 the male contingent of the abbey was formally abolished and Vadstena Abbey became an all-female community. During the Northern Seven Years' War of 1567, the abbey was looted by Danish soldiers. In 1568, the number of nuns was counted as 18.
The buildings were left empty for almost 40 years in the beginning of the 17th century. There were plans to found a university in them, but nothing came of this. In 1641, a Krigsmanshus (home for veterans) was founded for retired and invalid soldiers and their families, and was housed in the former nuns' wing for over 140 years. It also provided a school for the soldiers' children. The home was closed in 1783. In 1795, a hospital for venereal diseases was established in both the male and female sections of the former abbey. From the 1840s, it also received patients with other illnesses and became a public hospital. The hospital was moved to modern facilities in 1909. The nuns' section of the abbey was used as a prison from 1810 to 1825, and after that as a part of the Vadstena Insane Asylum until 1951.
In 1935, the Religious Sisters of the Bridgettine Order came to Vadstena under the Blessed Elisabeth Hesselblad and established a convent outside of the grounds of the former abbey. The abbey church is still standing and contains a few memorials of St. Bridget.References:
The Externsteine (Extern stones) is a distinctive sandstone rock formation located in the Teutoburg Forest, near the town of Horn-Bad Meinberg. The formation is a tor consisting of several tall, narrow columns of rock which rise abruptly from the surrounding wooded hills. Archaeological excavations have yielded some Upper Paleolithic stone tools dating to about 10,700 BC from 9,600 BC.
In a popular tradition going back to an idea proposed to Hermann Hamelmann in 1564, the Externsteine are identified as a sacred site of the pagan Saxons, and the location of the Irminsul (sacral pillar-like object in German paganism) idol reportedly destroyed by Charlemagne; there is however no archaeological evidence that would confirm the site's use during the relevant period.
The stones were used as the site of a hermitage in the Middle Ages, and by at least the high medieval period were the site of a Christian chapel. The Externsteine relief is a medieval depiction of the Descent from the Cross. It remains controversial whether the site was already used for Christian worship in the 8th to early 10th centuries.
The Externsteine gained prominence when Völkisch and nationalistic scholars took an interest in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This interest peaked under the Nazi regime, when the Externsteine became a focus of nazi propaganda. Today, they remain a popular tourist destination and also continue to attract Neo-Pagans and Neo-Nazis.