Wednesday 26th. February, 2014 – Off on my travels 

Taken in the gathering gloom, this is a picture of the Pilgrimage Centre in which we stayed. My room is the one in the middle of the first floor above the room with the light on it. It was lovely and everywhere was surrounded by trees

I was up at five so that I could shower, get ready and still be on the road by 6 a.m. Rachel drove me to Edinburgh airport (Rowan came with us while Mix moved into the farmhouse). Our journey took around ninety minutes.

I didn’t have to check in – I had done that on line – and because I only had hand baggage I only had to walk through security and wait until my gate number was announced. This turned out to be quite some wait. My plane had developed a fault in Amsterdam and had to be replaced. As a result we were an hour late in leaving, but fortunately I had time to spare in Amsterdam and could wander to my gate for Linkoping without any problem at all.

In the departure lounge there I met up with everyone who was coming to the get-together: Peter, Caroline, Kevin, Alison, Martin from England and Berit from Norway. We were met in Linkoping by Per who drove us in his minibus to Vadstena – an important pilgrimage centre in Sweden. (The airport at Linkoping was interesting. It was tiny, just the two gates, and when we arrived we were the only plane in the airport. It seems that the airport was built by Saab for their near-by factory but that they allow the community to use it and it has become a city-airport. It was certainly very friendly and welcoming and reminded me of Genoa airport back in the early seventies when I worked there.)

Our base in Vadstena was in a Pilgrim building which is part of the local church facilities which enable the church to provide education, accommodation, meals and conferences for students. It is extremely comfortable.

No sooner had we settled in than it was time to leave the building to be taken on a walking tour of the town. We learned of a very interesting history starting with the creation of a royal palace in the middle of the thirteenth century. One of the ladies in waiting to the queen was Briget, a wealthy woman born in 1303, married at the age of twelve and becoming the mother of eight children before she was widowed on the death of her husband (who was quite a lot older than she was).

It was getting quite dark but here you can see the church rising above the building which was the palace and became the convent

This model shows how the Church and convent relate to each other

Bridget decided to form a new religious order – named after herself. She persuaded the king and queen to give her the palace for her order and then set off for Rome to confront the Pope to ask for permission to set up her order.

Life was not without difficulties for her. First, she wished to create an order which included both men and women (60 nuns and 25 monks) and second, the Pope had moved from Rome to Avignon.

Bridget never returned to Sweden, spending the final twenty years of her long life (she died just before her 70th. birthday) in Rome, first communicating by letter with Avignon and finally face to face once the Pope returned and gave her permission for her order.

Initially this was the Palace of Vadstena. Then it was higher with larger windows and was hugely decorated and elaborate on the exterior. Bridget required it to be made into a building more appropriate for nuns and so the building was lowered and all of the decoration removed

Messages were sent to Sweden through her daughter – the palace was converted into a convent, a huge Church was built, a monastery was constructed and everything was enclosed by a wall (a further wall divided the monks from the nuns). We saw the joining wall through which monks and nuns (or at least the senior monk and the Abbess) could converse but not see each other – and a turning half-barrel which could enable letters to be transferred.

This is a fascinating picture – among the excavations behind the Church you can see the wall through which monks and nuns communicated: the section with holes so that one could hear but not see; the half-barrel into which something could be place and turned round so that it went through the wall; and the box which could be shuttled through the wall for bigger items

The next phase was the growth, not connected with the religious community, of care for mentally ill people – large facilities for both male and female were created by a sixteenth century benefactor, and continued until comparatively recently.

Vadstena remains predominantly a medieval town – not large: today there are about 5,500 people living here (and, according to the local newspaper, 500 dogs).

However, to return to what we were told by our guide, a later king built a fortress which later became a castle. It is a fine looking building which now houses municipal records and a museum and is still surrounded by a magnificent moat.

This is the fortress which then came a castle once the King was convinced that security was no longer his foremost concern

Originally, we were told, the whole town was protected by such a moat. In fact Vadstena sits on the shore of an enormous lake 140 km long by 40 km wide and over 100 metres deep. It is clean, pure water, used as drinking water for most people in this part of Sweden.

The light is going but this is the refectory just across from our accommodation (and opposite the convent building). Here meals and coffee were always available – not just for us but for the hundred or so students who attend the courses facilitated by the Church

Our guide for our tour was an ex Army Officer, now retired. He led us through the streets pointing out medieval buildings and brimming over with enthusiasm for his subject. He returned us to our base and immediately we went across to the refectory for dinner. We were served with with cod, potatoes and mixed vegetables, followed by a lovely desert. It was a splendid meal.

Not satisfactory as a photograph (my camera has no flash) but excellent as a reminder of a superb meal in great company in a place I never expected to be

After a walk we came back to the centre for cheese and fruit and then retired to bed. It had been a long day. My only disappointment had been that my small camera (which I have used for years) chose today to finally give up the ghost. As a result all of my photos for this trip have been taken on my mobile phone, (which unlike many people’s phones is primarily just that, a telephone).


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