The fourteenth century was a century of suffering. Large-scale famines (1315-1317), the Black Death (1347-1351), and the Hundred Years War (1337-1453) claimed many lives in Europe.
Under the powerful influence of the French king, Philip IV, Pope Clement V took up residence at Avignon in southern France. Pope Clement and the other popes lived in France for about seventy years (1305-1377). The Avignon Papacy was under too much control of the French king, and this period is known as “The Babylonian Captivity”.
Saints and scholars begged the popes to return to Rome. Two saints at the time were Bridget of Sweden and Catherine of Siena.
Bridget of Sweden
Bridget was born of the Swedish royal family in 1304.She was married to Ulf Gudmarsson, and had eight children. Her daughter, Catherine of Sweden, became a saint.
After the birth of their last child, Ulf and Bridget made a mutual vow of continence, and made a pilgrimage to Compostella. Ulf died at a Cistercian monastery in 1344. The widow Bridget devoted herself entirely to practices of religion and asceticism.
Bridget founded the monastery of Wastein, which eventually developed into the Order of our Savior (the Bridgettines). The monastery was mainly for women, with a small number of monks who cared for the spiritual needs of the nuns.
Private revelations were given to Bridget. These revelations mainly concern the sufferings and death of Christ. Bridget also foretold the future and fearlessly denounced vice.
Except for pilgrimages, Bridget spent the last twenty-five years of her life in Rome. In August, 1370, Pope Blessed Urban V approved the rule of her new order. Urban V was the only Avignon pope raised to the altar. The great act of his pontificate was his return to Rome on October 16, 1367.
Urban V spent three years in Rome, rebuilding the great basilicas and restoring discipline among the clergy. But eventually, due to local disorders and his desire to be useful to the Universal Church and to France, Urban V returned to Avignon on September 24, 1370.
Bridget foretold that Urban V would soon die if he left Rome. Her prediction came true in less than three months. When Urban V was dying, he stretched himself on the bare floor, covered with ashes, and held a crucifix in his hands.
Bridget herself died on July 23, 1373, and was canonized eighteen years after her death.
Catherine of Siena
Born in Siena in 1347, Catherine had a vision of Christ at six and made a private vow of chastity at seven.
She endured persecution from her family for refusing to marry. But eventually, through patience and virtue, she won the approval of her father, who allowed her to live a consecrated life.
Catherine lived an austere and prayerful life at home. She became a Dominican tertiary and received the black and white habit. At nineteen, she experienced Christ placing a ring on her finger. Catherine then started to reach out assisting the poor, serving the sick, and comforting the afflicted and prisoners.
Miracles of conversions and healings occurred through the prayers of Catherine. The Dialogue of Divine Providence was dictated in ecstasy. Clerics, nuns and lay faithful were among her followers.
Catherine had a great love for the Church. She urged Pope Gregory XI to leave Avignon for Rome, which he did in 1377.
After the death of Gregory XI in 1378, Urban VI was elected pope in Rome. But some dissatisfied cardinals elected an anti-pope, Clement VII, who went to live at Avignon. This is the beginning of the Great Western Schism.
Catherine defended the lawful pope, Urban VI. She died in Rome on April 29, 1380 at the age of thirty-three.
“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” (St. Catherine)